A Union Pacific worker died after getting hit by and trapped under a rail car in a Kansas City, KS, railyard on September 29, 2015. The fatal on-the-job accident occurred in a switching yard off Bayard Avenue.
According to television station KCTV, local law enforcement officials who responded to the scene said that the deceased rail employee had been using a remote control device to position locomotives “when he was hit by a second train pulling in.” It is unclear whether the train that struck the operator was crewed or also being controlled remotely.
No eyewitnesses were identified, so investigators from the rail corporation and the Federal Railroad Administration will have to reconstruct the fatal collision from physical evidence and whatever data can be collected from computers on the locomotives. They may also have to examine the remote control device being used to determine if some malfunction endangered the operator before he lost his life.
Remote control operation of locomotives can often pose risks. Railroad employees can trip and fall easily while wearing the ill-fitting and heavy devices that require them to take their eyes off where they are walking and whatever hazards they may be approaching. Delays between when operators signal commands and when locomotives respond can also prove dangerous. My Carolina rail accident victims' attorneys have long called for limited use and tighter regulation of remote locomotive controls for these reasons and others.
Whether an unsafe piece of equipment or some procedural error led to this deadly incident, Union Pacific must quickly identify the problem and work to address the cause. Then, all other freight and passenger railroads should follow UP's lead.