No explanation has yet been given for why two Union Pacific freight trains collided head-on at around 3 am on August 17, 2014, in Hoxie, Arkansas (AR). The crash resulted in two deaths, two injuries, an engine fire and a spill of unidentified toxic chemicals that prompted a temporary emergency evacuation of about half the town in the northeast corner of the state. News reports have not indicated whether the crew members who were hurt and killed were engineers, brakemen or conductors.
Investigators from the rail company, the state police and the National Transportation Board started arriving at the accident scene within hours, but a complete report on the incident may not be completed for a year or more. What is always clear when trains sharing the same track collide, however, is that a major error in communication, scheduling or switching occurred. Factors that need to be considered include whether radios inside the engines were working properly, whether dispatchers gave crews correct and up-to-date information regarding routes and schedules, and whether crew members missed signals to pull onto sidings or change routes.
Also clear, especially to me as a Carolina personal injury and wrongful death attorney who specializes in helping railroad employers injured in on-the-job accidents, is that this fatal crash almost certainly could have been prevented. There is never an acceptable excuse for keeping trains on a literal collision course, especially when the outcome is practically guaranteed to be loss of life and serious injuries.
With increasing amounts of toxic and flammable chemicals being transported by rail carriers such as BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, ensuring trains are routed and scheduled safely is more important than ever. Protecting the health and lives of railroad crew members and members of the general public demand taking a zero-error approach.