A Norfolk Southern worker died on the job in New Orleans on February 20, 2016, after being struck by a train while repairing track. The deadly train crash occurred along the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain and near the intersection of Hayne Boulevard and Mercier Street.
News reports do not include details on why the train struck and killed the trackman. The track bed is located atop a levee, and the right-of-way is open. While rail employees are often caught in the path of moving locomotives and rail cars in rail yards, such accidents are less common on open tracks. Protocols and procedures to alert trackmen of approach trains are supposed to be in place specifically to prevent a fatal workplace accident like this one in Louisiana.
As an attorney who has helped many Norfolk Southern and CSX employees injured on the job including another track worker in New Orleans who received $1.5 million for a crushed and permanently disabled leg, I know that the investigation into this receent incident could take months. Surely some error occurred, be it a breakdown in communications, a switch left open unintentionally, or a scheduling mix-up.
Federal regulations that provide various safety protections cover track workers. For example, whenever track workers are doing maintenance, dispatchers controlling that area of track are made aware of the project so they can preventing train movement over the out-of-service track. Such safeguards are needed because the use of heavy equipment can make it impossible for railroad track workers to see and hear an approaching train.
Identifying the problem and taking the steps necessary to ensure it does not recur are essential. Finding out why the fatal railroad accident happened also matters for the deceased rail worker's family. If evidence shows that inadequate protections and/or malfunction equipment contributed to causing the man's death, his loved ones could have grounds for seeking compensation for a wrongful death under a law like the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).
I send my condolences out to the friends and family of the Norfolk Southern worker. I also urge the railroad to act quickly to improve safety for its crews in New Orleans and throughout the United States.