After a CSX freight train hit an articulated boom lift stuck on the tracks outside of Newburgh, New York (NY), three locomotives and 16 rail cars derailed and four railroad workers went to the hospital with injuries. The collision happened at a grade crossing on River Road in the Rockland County community of New Windsor on the afternoon of March 7, 2017.
According to police and news reports, the cherry picker got trapped on the tracks when crossing gates lowered as the train approached. The driver of the boom lift and a worker in the bucket managed to escape before the crash occurred and did not suffer any injuries.
After the lead locomotive hit the cherry picker, it pushed the truck for hundreds of yards, eventually destroying it. Debris from the smashed truck and a few of the rail cars also struck maintenance vehicles parked along adjacent tracks.
The injured CSX workers were the engineer and conductor crewing the train and two individuals in the vehicles caught up in the wreckage. One of the rail employees spent the night in the hospital with a broken nose and facial lacerations.
The derailment could have turned into a legitimate disaster since five of the derailed rail cars were tankers filled with sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide. Residents and business owners near the site of the wreck also shared lingering concerns over oil trains that use the River Road crossing and the speeds at which CSX trains travel through New Windsor.
The cause of the collision and subsequent derailment remained unknown at the end of the week. Investigators from the state police and the National Transportation Safety Board are cooperating with local officials and railroad personnel to answer those questions. One issue that will need to be addressed is a witness' report to a local television station that the train only sounded a single whistle before entering the grade crossing.
New York state law requires someone in a locomotive to sound a bell, horn or whistle repeatedly once they come within a quarter mile of a grade crossing. Violating that statute could put partial fault for the crash on the train crew and their supervisors for not ensuring compliance. When a vehicle or mobile crane gets stuck on a rail crossing, the circumstances are unique. An investigation of whether the rail crossing structure complied with state law and railroad industry standards must be conducted to determine the root cause of why the vehicle was stuck.
Failing to follow and enforce safety laws and procedures makes a rail company liable for covering injured workers' injuries under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Enacted in 1908 to place legal responsibilities for protecting the lives and health of interstate railroads that were not otherwise subject to state workers' compensation laws, FELA holds rail companies accountable for the negligence or reckless of its officers, agents and employees.
As FELA injury and wrongful death attorneys based in Virginia who have helped CSX, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern workers, my law firm colleagues and I have seen many the ways that small errors and lapses in safe practices can disable and kill. The injuries and physical damage from the derailment near Newburgh could have been much worse. Whether this railroad crossing crash was easily preventable remains subject to further investigation.