Serious personal injuries, or even deaths, occur at public railroad crossings throughout the country. If you, or a loved one were involved in an accident at a rail crossing, we want you to have as much information as possible. For example, many people aren't aware of the fact that there are different federal regulations which impact the duties and responsibilities of the railroad crew that is operating a train. These responsibilities include respecting the warnings that a train must issue to cars or trucks that are crossing a railroad track.
First, most railroads set a maximum speed for a train, and federal regulations also classify track and set maximum speeds. Federal regulations may also apply to govern when a horn and whistle must be blasted at a public railroad crossing. Further, with regard to the maintenance of trees, shrubs and vegetation at a railroad crossing, there are several authoritative sources that apply.
One is a book called the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and another set of standards is issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).
These publications have details relating to the sight lines that should be available to a motorist approaching a railroad crossing, along with a number of other variables that must be followed, based on traffic and other factors. Cities, counties and states actually maintain detailed public rail crossing records and in many cases have “studied” the crossing. The Federal Railroad Administration has a crossing number for all public railroad crossings, and information is available online about each crossing by its number.
The issue of the types of warnings (signs, lights, gates) that should be erected at a public railroad crossing, or a private railroad crossing, are extremely complex and beyond the scope of a short article. However, the best warning devices at railroad crossings are "active warning devices" which means lights that are electronically activated by an approaching train, along with gates that will lower automatically on the approach of a train. A crossing with electronically activated warning lights, but no gates, is the next best protected crossing besides one with activated electronic lights and gates, because of the “active” change that occurs to warn drivers.
Cross bucks (signs with a “X” cross near the top marked railroad crossing) are placed at many crossings and some have added reflectorized tape. Of course, these devices are better than having no warnings, but they are not active in the sense that nothing alerts a car or truck driver when a fast or slow approaching train approaches the crossing.
Our Virginia personal injury lawyers have represented both motorists and crew members for many years in railroad accidents, and we have an excellent understanding of how to investigate these types of personal injuries and wrongful deaths at railroad crossings.
Our Virginia rail crossing injury law firm employs retired railroad workers as investigators and their network of connections is invaluable in a railroad crossing accident, not only to go investigate the circumstances at the crossing itself, but to pick up the phone or email persons that may have important information who may be retired from, or actually employed by, the railroad involved in our case. For example, we have represented crew members injured when a train has collided with a tractor trailer or truck at a rail crossing involving serious injuries. Also, we have represented persons located in cars that were struck by trains. We have represented persons in trucks who were struck at railroad crossings, where we could prove that the appropriate warnings or safety measures were not implemented at the crossing. We reported on case results of a prior railroad crossing injury case involving a father who had two young children in the back seat of the car and was struck by a Norfolk Southern train.
We have had other crossing cases in which train crew members suffered injuries when large commercial trucks blocked a crossing. We've successfully investigated and settled cases of head-on collisions between two trains, injuring crew members and we've been involved in derailments resulting in injuries to train crew members (see Graniteville Norfolk Southern train derailment). Also, Rick Shapiro was co-author of a publication entitled Railroad Health and Safety, a Litigator's Guide, which is published in the nation's law libraries by Thomson West.