Rear-End Freight Train Crash Kills BNSF Conductor and Engineer | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

For the second time in less than a month, BNSF rail employees have lost their lives while on the job. The latest fatal accident for the second largest freight railroad in the United States occurred on April 17, 2011, near the town of McPherson, Iowa (IA). The deadly rear-end collision between a coal train and a maintenance train killed a conductor and engineer and brought to four the number of Burlington Northern Santa Fe workers who died on the rail operator’s trains and in its rail yards within a 25-day period.

The Iowa wreck killed conductor Patricia Hyatt and engineer Tom Anderson. The earlier crash, which involved a BNSF train hitting a transportation van at an unmarked grade crossing in a Kelso, Washington (WA), yard, caused the deaths of conductor trainee Chris Loehr and engineer Tom Kenny.

Having represented victims of railroad accidents and worked closely with the United Transportation Union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen for almost three decades, I have seen firsthand how devastating fatal crashes can be for the family members and loved ones of the killed employees. My heartfelt condolences go out to all the grieving spouses, children, parents and friends.

My experience has also taught me that accidents don’t “just happen” on trains and tracks and in rail yards. Every collision, workplace slip and fall or exposure to toxic or cancer-causing substances such as asbestos and diesel fumes represents an instance where someone has been negligent or careless. The Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the causes of the deadly crashes in Washington and Iowa, and the findings may prompt changes to regulations or professional practices at BNSF as well other major freight railroads such as CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

I can’t speculate on what specific mistake led the four BNSF employees to loose their lives, but I can guarantee that some negligence or carelessness will be found in both cases. Speaking as an attorney, I can also state that those negligence findings will provide grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit under FELA or other applicable civil laws and regulations.

I know that no monetary awards for a wrongful death can truly compensate an accident victim’s survivors for their loss, but I also know that some justice is available.