A Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer reassigned to work as a conductor died from crush injuries on February 9, 2011, after he became trapped between rail cars he was switching in a yard in Kankakee, Illinois. Details of the accident in which the 43-year-old railroad employee lost his life are scant, but NS and the Federal Railroad Administration have opened investigations into the incident that may take as long as a year to reach conclusions.
The fatal accident in Illinois occurred the same day that a CSX conductor nearly died after falling about 50 from a bridge into a freezing river while switching cars in a rail yard at a paper mill in Covington, Virginia (VA). A switchman working with the conductor in Virginia rescue the fallen man from the water but suffered hypothermia for his efforts.
Conductors are constantly at risk for getting run over or crushed by locomotives and rail cars because they often have to work behind and between cars and out of the direct sight of other railroad employees responsible for controlling trains. Even the briefest breakdown in communications or slip of a brake can cost a conductor his life or a limb.
My colleagues and I have represented victims of train and rail yard accidents for more than two decades, so we know firsthand how devastating those incidents can be. We also serve as designated legal counsel for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. The BLET is the main rail union for engineers, and its membership includes conductors. Only experienced, proven FELA and railroad injury attorneys receive status as designated counsel from the BLET.
If investigators find that an equipment or procedural failure led to the tragedy in Kankakee, NS and regulators must do everything can to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again. And whatever the cause, I offer my condolences to the engineer's family and friends.