Railroad work is dangerous and many train crew personnel have been hurt or killed on the job in North Carolina (NC) over the years, including those who worked for Norfolk Southern (NS), Amtrak or CSX. Our law firm has been representing injured railroad engineers for decades. We are union designated counsel for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). There is a very strong federal law which protects railroad workers and their families when there is an on-duty job accident called the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Our law firm specializes in FELA cases.
There are many different ways that engineers get hurt on the job and over the years we have seen them all. However, some of the most common situations include the following:
1. Violations of the federal safety statute called the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), formerly called the Boiler Inspection Act (BIA). This law says that the railroad’s engines and all parts of the engine must be in good working order. All sorts of defects can occur on a locomotive including problems with the seats, lighting, handholds, and even the commode. If we can show that there was something wrong with the engine, then we do not even have to show that the railroad was negligent. It is enough to show that they were having the worker use the engine and the engine was not right. It is almost automatic liability. Note that we usually also try to show the cause of the problem and that the carrier was at-fault in letting it get that way to help the jury get made.
2. Collisions of two trains or the train hitting some object which is fouling the track meaning blocking the train’s safe passage over the track can cause major injuries. Sometimes derailments occur. These cases arise for a variety of reasons including someone improperly aligning a switch so that the train goes where it is not supposed to go or a dispatcher improperly giving the orders so that two trains going in opposite directions end up on the same track. Another common problem is an object, particularly a tree, that end up in the middle of the track in a way that could have and should have been prevented by good maintenance of the railroad’s right of way. All of these are very scary hazards for an engineer.
3. Another major category of injuries to railroad locomotive engineers are the occupational injuries over time to their bodies often called cumulative trauma injuries or repetitive stress injuries. These are the effects of all of the pounding that these workers’ bodies take in their railroad jobs and the toll that it has on their musculoskeletal systems meaning their spine, neck, back, as well as their extremities and joints, meaning legs, arms, shoulders, knees and feet. Most often these injuries are seen in workers who have been on the railroad for over 20 years and who in their forties and fifties find that they are physically worn out far beyond what would normally have occurred but for the fact of these excessive forces on the job. Unless you have family who has been involved in the railroad industry, you do not really know how physically demanding the job of an engineer is. It is not like driving a truck or sitting in an armchair. The seats are terrible especially on older engines and provide very little back support. There is constant vibration and lateral movement as the train goes over rough patches on the railroad where the track is washed out or otherwise not properly maintained. In the yards, sidings and industries where the train adds or gets rid of cars there are especially demanding forces applied to the worker’s body. For example, if the conductor gives the countdown or signals for coupling rail cars in an improper manner because of inexperience or inattention the force of the collision between the cars and the engine in coupling is like an automobile crash each time new cars are hooked on.
Also, a lot of this work has to be done in awkward and ergonomically unsafe postures where the engineer has to have his head stretched out the window to be able to look and see signals being given by the conductor as to the movement. The effect of all of these stresses is that the engineer often needs to get surgery for a herniated disc in his back or otherwise is medically forced to cut his career short because he cannot lift the 50 to 100 pounds required for this position.