A contract worker doing maintenance for Canadian Pacific on railroad track north of Forreston, Illinois (IL), lost his life after a crane went out of control. The fatal workplace accident occurred on April 30, 2015.



According to news reports, the deceased contractor died after suffering head and brain injuries in an ATV rollover. The vehicle got knocked over by a magnetic boom being used to collect spikes. Witnesses said the boom “spun out of control,” but no definitive explanation for that was given.

As a Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorney who has helped railroad employees injured, made sick, and killed on the job since the mid-1980s, I know that train tracks and rail yards for Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and all other railroads offer thousands of life-threatening risks for workers. Construction equipment can be particularly dangerous because a crane or dump truck often interrupts usual traffic patterns, work routines and chains of communication. Another concern is that maintenance crews are rarely composed of only full-time employees of the rail corporation. Integrating contractors into a cohesive work team dedicated to safety can be difficult.

I have seen this very problem more than once. In one case, a man repairing a railroad trestle in Louisiana had one his legs and hips crushed by a large timber beam being moved unexpectedly and inexpertly by a crane operator. The rail corporation that owned the bridge was eventually held liable for violating worker safety regulations and was made to pay compensation for creating the situation that left the contractor disabled.

The investigation into the deadly incident along the Canadian Pacific tracks in Illinois may go on for months before yielding answers. Each loss of life at work sites for rail companies sets off a chain of corporate inquiries and questioning by local, state and federal regulators. That is appropriate, if frustrating for the friends and family members of the person who died. The goal is to identify the problems that caused the loss of life and to then improve procedures to prevent future tragedies. I sincerely hope that is the outcome of the death in Illinois.