Private Railroad Crossing Safety: Reasonable Warnings Required By State Law | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

My partner recently took the depositions of several railroad employees in a case where a man driving a pick up truck was killed in a collision with a short line railroad freight train, while trying to cross an unmarked private railroad crossing. Our investigation revealed that there were no stop signs or railroad cross bucks at the particular private crossing (a private crossing is one where the city has not dedicated the roadway, so the road is considered “private”) The amazing thing that arose during the course of the wrongful death case is that the short line railroad employees did not believe that they had any duty to blow the train whistle/horn or issue any warning whatsoever at the private crossing.  How could full time train engineers and conductors have no idea what their duties were at private crossings?  Prior to conducting the depositions of the short line crew my colleague checked Virginia’s railroad crossing law and confirmed a number of court decisions establishing that a railroad must provide an adequate warning at any railroad crossing-public or private.  However, the engineer and conductor of the railroad did not believe that they had any duty to warn a car, truck or any driver of their approaching train.  The crew was wrong—they had never been properly trained about the laws applying to their operation of the train, especially at any private railroad crossings.

 The law applying to private railroad crossings is generally established by state laws, not by federal railroad administration rules or regulations.  Surprisingly, I have written previously about the fact that adding stop signs at private railroad crossings does not reduce personal injuries or wrongful deaths, but actually makes these crossings more dangerous.  For more information on this topic visit our railroad injury website case results in railroad injury cases  and check a prior case result involving injuries at a private railroad crossing.