A rash of deadly and serious train crashes at private railroad crossings hit Washington County, Virginia (VA), during 2016. In the most-recent incident, a garbage truck driver who lives over the state line in Bristol, Tennessee (TN), was struck and badly injured by a Norfolk Southern freight train at the intersection of Wyndale Road and Kenwarn Lane on the morning of December 16, 2016.
In reporting that wreck, the Bristol Herald Courier noted that “Monday’s accident is the third one involving a Norfolk Southern train this year in Washington County. In March, a 71-year-old man was hit and killed after trying to cross the railroad tracks near West Main Street in Abingdon and in June, a 44-year-old man was hit and killed near Preston Road in Abingdon.”
The common thread connecting each tragedy and hospitalization is a lack of gates and warning lights at the scene of the collision. Virginia law does not require specific safety equipment or barriers at grade crossings located on private property. Basic maintenance should be done to maintain long lines of sight down the tracks in each direction, but a growing body of vision research indicates that drivers find it difficult to judge the speed and distance of approaching trains because of how the human eye is constructed. A fuller explanation of that physical limitation appears here.
Property owners and rail corporations usually cite the costs of construction and upkeep when asked why they fail to voluntary put safety measures in place. The question then needs to become what value they place on human lives and people's physical health. Even putting up stop signs and crossbucks could help numerous drivers slow down and reconsider the wisdom of trying to make it across a set of train tracks ahead of a nearing locomotive.
My Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues and I have represented victims of railroad crossing crashes since the 1980s. In nearly every case, more efforts to keep people off the tracks while the trains were approaching could have made a difference between our client reaching their destination safely and suffering severe harm.
When any tragedy occurs at a public or private railroad grade crossing, the railroad has a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to reducing dangers. Every railroad crossing requires a customized evaluation by railroad safety personnel because these professionals are the most familiar with how to accommodate visual circumstances and the number of vehicles that use each crossing. At a minimum, track safety inspectors should periodically inspect all areas of railroad track in a given geographical location.