Two CSX conductors lost their lives when an Amtrak train struck them as they stood on tracks in Northeast Washington, DC, late on the night of June 27, 2017. The fatal collision happened near 1200 New York Avenue NE, and both the passenger and freight train had been on their way to Union Station.
According to news radio station WTOP, the deceased conductors had stepped out of their train to check on a warning light indicating a mechanical failure. Four sets of tracks run in parallel at the site of the deadly accident, with two being owned by CSX and two being owned by Amtrak. It is unclear whether the conductors or their dispatchers and supervisors had any information regarding the approach of the Amtrak train,
WTOP described the incident this way:
The CSX train was heading toward Union Station from Baltimore Tuesday night when an automatic alert indicated a problem with one or more of the train’s wheels … . Dispatch prompted the crew to stop the train and check it out and both the train’s conductor and a conductor being qualified on that route exited the train, he said.
At some point before 11:30 p.m., the two workers crossed over on to an adjacent track that was “active” where they were struck by a southbound Amtrak train that had originated in Boston. A CSX engineer who remained on the freight train was not harmed.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are cooperating with DC police and officials from both rail corporations to determine what went wrong in causing the freight train conductors’ deaths. Speed may be a factor, as the posted speed limit along the commuter rail line in the far northeast of DC is 95 mph. A breakdown in communication may also have occurred, as there are situations in which different track owners and train operators are required by federal and state regulations to issue alerts to each other about changing conditions and imminent dangers.
The fact the CSX-owned and Amtrak-owned tracks run adjacent tracks to each other will make settling claims quite complicated. If workers need to be on live railroad tracks owned by a different company, they must first obtain the right to be there from the dispatcher for the railroad that employs them. It is unclear whether the conductors realized the adjacent tracks were owned by Amtrak or which dispatcher would give them authority to be on the adjacent tracks.
There is certainly no doubt that railroad workers and train crews face risks for serious injuries and deaths during every shift. The Federal Railroad Administration, which keeps records on collisions involving passenger trains across the United States, compiled the following statistics for rail employee injuries and deaths during 2016:
- Bruise/contusion: 5
- Occupational illness: 2
- Sprained/Strained arm or hand muscle: 1
- Sprained/Strained leg or foot muscle: 4
- Sprained/Strained head or face muscle: 1
- Sprained/Strained torso muscle: 8
- Cuts/Abrasions: 3
- Puncture/Wound: 1
- Rupture/Tear tendons or ligaments: 1
- Animal/Snakes/Insect bite: 1
- Amputations of arm or hand: 1
- Fatality: 1
- Concussion: 1
Those numbers do not include reports of on-the-job injuries and deaths among freight rail workers. When any such work-related harm occurs, the railroad employee or family members may have grounds for seeking compensation under the Federal Employers Liability Act. The FELA law does some of what workers’ compensation does for nonrailroad employees, but holding companies accountable by filing a FELA lawsuits is more complicated. Consulting with an experienced Virginia FELA attorney will help the families of the CSX conductors who lost their lives in Washington, DC, understand the steps they must take to pursue wrongful death claims.
Our law firm has represented many CSX engineers and conductors over the last 20 years, including some injured in Washington DC, and all over the eastern United States. In addition to any FELA claim against CSX, the deceased conductors’ family members may have wrongful death claims against Amtrak if any of the passenger railroad’s staff acted negligently.