With New NS Double Stacked Railroad Trains Come Higher Risks for Crossing Accidents

Norfolk Southern has begun construction on its new $95 million rail facility in Birmingham, Alabama (AL). According to Inside Business, the Birmingham Regional Intermodal facility is the first stop along Norfolk Southern’s 2,500-mile Crescent Corridor, which runs from Louisiana to New Jersey and New York. The 316-acre site will serve as a transfer station where containers get tken off trucks and loaded onto rail cars, most of which will be double-stacked, meaning one container will sit on top of another on the same car.

It is one of several new facilities planned, including sites in Charlotte, North Carolina (NC), Greencastle, Pennsylvania (PA), and Memphis, Tennessee (TN).  In addition, capacity improvements will be made in Virginia and Mississippi. The VA Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Rail Enhancement Fund has assisted the project with $45 million. Other projects in Virginia will see expansion as well, including the Shenandoah Line and the Heartland Corridor.  

Michael R. McClellan, NS vice president of automotive and intermodal marketing for the railroad, told the Virginian-Pilot that the major expansions will bring benefits to the public, including improved roadway safety and air quality from decreased trucks on the highways.

While the Crescent Corridor improvements may have the intended effect of decreasing some amount of trucks on the state’s highways, that would-be roadway traffic will result in increased rail traffic. In fact, NS spokesperson Robin Chapman states that 20 trains will pass along the corridor each day. Most of these trains will carry double-stacked cargo. As a Virginia and Carolina railroad and car accident personal injury lawyer, I have seen and dealt with many injury and wrongful death  cases, particularly those involving railroad crossings. As these Norfolk Southern projects will increase railroad traffic, I certainly hope that significant portions of the funds are being dedicated to enhance crossing signals and other safety measures.

Far too many accidents occur between trains and motorist vehicles at railroad crossings.  Federal law governs the types of warning devices required at crossings. The best types of warning devices are “active warning devices.” These are signals with lights that automatically turn on as a train approaches, along with gates that lower automatically as well.  Second to those are warnings with automatically activated lights, but no gates. Here, the driver is still actively warned by the changing condition of the lights. Least effective are cross bucks, the signs with an “X” at the top to indicate a railroad crossing.

Railroad crossing accidents may bring injury or death to drivers and passengers of motorcycles, cars, or trucks at the crossing, or they may harm the crewmembers of the train itself when the railroad is negligent in providing adequate and effective warnings. Now, with Norfolk Southern’s plans to increase rail traffic, particularly with double-stacked trains, the danger of bad crossing accidents is greatly increased. Twice the cargo capacity means twice the momentum of the train coming into a crossing, meaning collisions with other vehicles will be much more powerful.  


Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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