A CSX train conductor and a tractor-trailer driver suffered second- and third-degree burns when their vehicles collided in an industrial rail yard in Buffalo, New York (NY). The crash, outside a General Mills plant on Ganson Street along the river, occurred on the morning of June 23, 2015. The train was reportedly backing up along a side track, and the force of the crash caused one of several natural gas cylinders being carried by the semi to crack, explode and catch fire. Both the rail employee and trucker are expected to survive.
CSX, state and federal railroad regulators, and law enforcement officials are conducting an investigation into why the truck was on the tracks while the train was in motion. Rail yards are busy places, and vehicles of all types must share tight spaces. Traffic coordination, as well continuous communication among drivers, train crews and ground personnel, are needed to prevent collisions, which too often prove deadly. Commercial vehicles, locomotives and rail cars also must be outfitted with adequate and properly working safety equipment to minimize the risk for and consequences of crashes. A primary goal for investigators will be identifying ways to improve rail yard safety by uncovering procedural and physical deficiencies.
As a Virginia-based attorney who has represented dozens of railroad employees and their families in injury and wrongful death lawsuits brought under laws like the Federal Employers Liability Act and the Safety Appliance Act, I take special interest in incidents like the one in Buffalo. All workers deserve protection from injuries, and the obligations on employers rise as the dangers within a workplace increase. With rail yards being among the most dangerous places to work — filled with moving trains, engines belching toxic smoke and fumes, vehicles in constant motion, and people of all different skill levels — companies such as CSX and Norfolk Southern must do everything possible to lower risks. Let’s hope that happens in Buffalo and elsewhere.