Our railroad injury and occupational illness law firm has helped dozens of maintenance of way workers over many years. Much of our practice involves holding CSX and Norfolk Southern accountable for failing to ensure the safety and health of their employees in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and throughout the eastern United States.

Since opening our doors more than 35 years ago, we have noticed definite trends and patterns in claims brought under the provision of the Federal Employers Liability Act and other railroad worker safety laws. In our experience, there are 10 causes of preventable injuries that most frequently hospitalize, disable and, sadly, kill crew members and contractors who work to keep tracks and rail beds in good repair.


In no particular order, these causes are

  • Impacts from moving trains and rail cars due to mistakes in scheduling, communications breakdowns, ignoring signals or leaving switches open.
  • Crashes involving maintenance vehicles, which can happen when drivers become distracted or supervisors fail to enforce rules about vehicle clearance.
  • Failures of defective equipment.
  • Falling objects and dropped tools, which become particular risks when foremen and supervisors neglect to assign spotters and do not clear the ground below overhead work.
  • Overwork due to understaffing.
  • Cutting corners to meet unrealistic deadlines.
  • Creating unsafe working conditions by, for example, failing to provide adequate lighting for night work.
  • Improperly placed, poorly installed and badly maintained devices such as removable toolboxes on maintenance vehicles.
  • Unsafe ladders, ramps and stairs, including step downs that end up being positioned too high off the ground when track ballast subsides or washes away.
  • Leaks and spills that make slips and falls likely.
  • Co-workers ignoring safety rules, which is a particular problem when supervisors fail to provide training and oversight on lifting techniques, equipment tagout and signal use.

The listed problems create risks ranging from poor ergonomics that produce repetitive use injuries to fatal head trauma. And missing from the list are long-term health threats from long-term exposures to diesel fumes, coal ash and — yes, still — asbestos.

My Virginia-based FELA attorneys and I understand that dangers will always exist for maintenance of way workers. The job is physically demanding and often performed in less-than-ideal conditions. Simply walking along crushed rock ballast is a fall hazard. Add heavy, moving vehicles to the worksite, and some accidents may begin to seem inevitable.

Railroads still have legal duties to protect their employees to the maximum extent possible. We welcome opportunities to hold rail corporations to their obligations.