A conductor crewing a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe train got killed when she became trapped between two moving rail cars in a Colorado Springs, CO, rail yard. The fatal on-the-job accident occurred on October 9, 2014, off a side track servicing a construction supply company.
According to a report in the local newspaper, The Gazette, investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived on the scene quickly. No details on how the woman became unable to escape from the closing space between the cars or the injuries she suffered before losing her life were immediately released. Several other people in the yard witnessed the incident, however, so a full story should emerge over time. I know from my decades helping rail employees and their family members pursue injury and wrongful death claims that the investigation may take a year or more to produce conclusions.
Information may emerge that no proper -- and legally required -- procedures and equipment were in place or being used to let the victim know the train had started rolling. Investigators could also find that unsafe conditions such as damaged walkways or uneven ballast along the tracks caused her to lose her footing and fall. Maybe she became entangled in poorly secured chains or lines. Determining, or ruling out, such scenarios are essential for two reasons.
First, holding a railroad company like BNSF, CSX or Norfolk Southern liable for creating and maintaining unsafe work conditions requires determining which requirements under laws such as the Safety Appliance Act or the Federal Employers' Liability Act the corporation's officers and managers violated. Second, needed changes can only come once people know what went wrong.
I send my condolences out to the friends and family members of the BNSF conductor killed while working. As terrible as the loss is, it may serve a higher purpose of making railroad employment safer for everyone.