An Iowa Interstate Railroad employee suffered serious abdominal injuries when a freight train backing up in the rail yard for a Council Bluffs, IA, power plant crashed through a closed gate, bent a guardrail and pinned him in place so tightly rescuers needed to use heavy cutting tools to free him. News reports noted that the injured rail worker was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Omaha, Nebraska (NE), but did not contain further information on his condition.

Iowa Interstate promised a full investigation of the accident, but preliminary information indicates that part of the problem was that the closed gate should have been opened. The closed gate could have contributed to the accident by giving the injured employee a false sense of safety; that is, he could have assumed no train would be coming his way.

Rail yards pose many dangers to the lives and limbs of the people who work in them. My colleagues and I have represented many victims of amputations, crush injuries and occupational illnesses such as cancer and silicosis that occurred or developed on trains and switching yards and repair shops. Rail operators — be they giants like Norfolk Southern, CSX and BNSF or smaller lines like Iowa Interstate — have a high duty to protect their employees. The companies must ensure all safety equipment is in good working order and that all personnel use the equipment correctly and in accordance with procedures developed to keep everyone safe.

Whatever the cause of the accident in Iowa, I send my wishes for a speedy recovery to the hospitalized man and my hopes that fewer rail employees suffer similar fates.