Four Norfolk Southern employees suffered serious injuries when the freight trains they were crewing collided head-on and derailed outside of Sandersville, Georgia (GA), on the afternoon of August 7, 2015. The train crash occurred at a grade-level crossing across Highway 242, which is known locally as Sunhill Grange Road. Two of the railroad workers were injured so badly that they needed to be flown by helicopter to Augusta, which is some 60 miles away from the scene of the accident.
Local law enforcement officials who first responded to the crash site believe that human error in failing to manually reset a track switch left the trains on a collision course. The rail company is not immediately concurring with this conclusion, and it has joined state police and federal agencies in doing an in-depth analysis of the incident.
Whenever two trains operated by the same railroad crash head-on, there is a strong presumption of negligence by one or more employees of that railroad. Here, it is likely that a crew member left a railroad switch in an improper position, but railroad traffic vibrations can cause an open switch to move if it was not secured by the last crew member. Such issues will be sorted out by federal investigators.
Norfolk Southern may need to assess many aspects of systemwide worker performance, staff communication and dispatch procedures. In mid-July, two other NS trains crashed into each other in Dublin, Virginia (VA), sending two employees to the hospital and causing significant environmental damage. Those trains were involved in a rear-end collision, but the basic problem of two trains sharing the same track too closely together in time and location lay at the root of the problem.
As a Carolina personal injury and wrongful death attorney who has helped railroad workers hurt on the job since the 1980s, I know that accidents never just happen. Each crash and derailment has a cause, and that cause almost always could have been avoided. Scheduling, routing and switching errors are all easy to identify and should be simple to fix. When any do occur and go uncorrected, the consequences can be tragic.