Articles Posted in Train Accidents

trainspeedSpeeding is a factor in countless accidents every single day, leaving behind serious injuries and grieving families.  As we have all been reminded in the past week, the danger of speeding isn’t confined to cars.  The thoughts of our entire San Francisco/Oakland train accident law firm go out to the victims of the terrible train derailment in Philadelphia.  As with so many accidents, we believe the very best way to honor the victims is by ensuring such tragedies are prevented in the future.  Implementing Positive Train Control is one way we can prevent future train tragedies.

Speeding and Lack of Safety Controls Eyed in Philadelphia Derailment

According to CNN, eight people died and more than 200 were injured when a Amtrak train derailed just north of Philadelphia last week.  The accident occurred on a well-traveled route from Washington to New York, at a curve in the track near Frankford Junction.  As the news unfolded, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) revealed a disturbing fact – the train was travelling 106 mph as it entered the curve, despite the fact that the curve carries a 50 mph speed limit.

When we mention train safety, people often focus on the possibility of a collision between a train and a car or similar motor vehicle.  However, train safety is also about pedestrians.  As a developing story reminds us, pedestrian train accidents are a very real, often fatal, threat.  Our San Francisco train accident attorney stands ready to help when a pedestrian rail crash stems from the actions (or inaction) of a careless conductor, a risky corporate policy (formal or informal), or another negligent decision that puts innocent pedestrians at risk.

Muni Light Rail Car Hits and Kills San Francisco Boy

A tragic accident stunned San Francisco’s Ocean View neighborhood on Tuesday when a child pedestrian was hit by a Muni vehicle and died at the scene.  At the time of this writing, the facts were slowly unfolding and the story still developing.  The San Francisco Chronicle was reporting that a 12 year-old boy had been hit by a Muni light rail vehicle near San Jose and Lakeview avenues.  Officials told reporters that the boy was running through the crosswalk to catch another train to get to school at the time of the incident.  Muni service in the area was stopped while the medical examiner responded.

We are proud to live in a city and a region that are committed to making public transportation a viable, workable option. Public transportation is good for the environment. It is also a healthy option since those using public transit are more likely to walk for a portion of their commute than drivers using their own private vehicles. Public transportation systems such as The San Francisco Municipal Railway (“Muni”) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”) also shape a region’s identity and promote a sense of unification. Nonetheless, public transportation accidents are an unfortunate reality. Even a single-vehicle crash can impact dozens of travelers. As a San Francisco public transportation injury lawyer, Attorney Greg Brod helps these victims. Whether dealing with a Muni crash in town or a BART accident anywhere in the region, Attorney Brod helps injured people recover the compensation they need and deserve.

Shining a Light on “BART’s Track Troubles”  

On Monday, The San Francisco Chronicle published a column titled “BART’s Track Troubles Can’t Be Ignored.” The report, a must-read for users of the rail network, suggests that hazardous and/or deteriorating tracks may put the safety of thousands at risk. In recent years, public officials have focused on expanding BART’s reach and its BARToperating hours; twin goals that may come at the expense of maintenance on existing lines. BART opened in 1972 (43 years ago). Since then, only about 20% of the tracks have been replaced. In contrast, federal officials estimate tracks have a 25 year life span while BART officials say tracks should last 20 to 35 years depending on location.

The deadly collision between an Amtrak train and a sport utility vehicle at a railroad crossing in East Oakland on Sunday night that resulted in the death of the driver of the SUV is still under investigation. However, San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod would point out that what we do know about the unsettling incident is that it has added yet another figure to the troubling statistical trend for 2014 concerning fatalities and injuries at railroad crossings.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the fatal collision occurred at about 10:05 p.m. Sunday when an unidentified 48-year-old Oakley man drove his Acura MDX around a barrier onto the tracks at 50th Avenue and San Leandro Street in Oakland and a northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight struck the SUV, killing the motorist. The train, whose point of origin was Los Angeles, was on its way to Seattle carrying 200 passengers and crew and came to a stop at High and San Leandro streets after slamming into the SUV. The Alameda County Coroner’s Office is investigating the incident as an apparent suicide; the motorist was pronounced dead at the scene, while no one aboard the train was injured.

Whether or not officials determine that the deadly incident on Sunday was a suicide this much is clear: when there is a collision between a train and a motor vehicle, damage and the potential for injury or death will fall lopsidedly on the later. Indeed, according to the train safety advocacy group Operation Lifesaver, the force of a 30-car freight train hitting a motor vehicle is equivalent to that of the same motor vehicle striking a aluminum soda can – a decidedly no-contest equation. And a motorist is 20 times more likely to die in a collision involving a train than in a crash involving another motor vehicle.

The most recent statistics from the Federal Railroad Office of Safety Analysis detail a less-than-reassuring picture of railroad crossing accidents involving trains and motor vehicles in the United States, including the following:

  • There were 970 such incidents in 2011, 970 in 2012, 1,022 in 2013 and 1,130 from January through June 2014, which represents a 16.5 percent increase from 2011 to this year.
  • There were 135 fatalities in 2011, 116 in 2012, 127 in 2013 and 137 from January through June 2014, which represents a 1.9 percent increase from 2011 to this year.
  • There were 517 injuries in 2011, 432 in 2012, 482 in 2013 and 395 from January through June 2014, which represents a 23.6 percent decrease from 2011 to this year.

The picture for pedestrians or so-called trespassers who cross railroad tracks has been even more grim during the 2011-14 period, as there were 188 fatalities in 2011, 195 in 2012, 208 in 2013 and 262 from January through June 2014, an increase of 39.4 percent. With respect to injuries due to collisions between trains and pedestrians, there were 168 in 2011, 220 in 2012, 202 in 2013 and 197 from January through June 2014, an increase of 17.3 percent. Not surprisingly, the odds are stacked even more heavily against pedestrians than motor vehicles when they are in the path of a moving train.
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Few concepts are as fundamental to the field of civil injury law as the notion of negligence. As a plaintiff’s law firm, a key part of our job is proving that the defendant was negligent and that this negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In this post, our San Francisco personal injury attorney looks at a special form of negligence – negligence per se – a concept that helps plaintiffs fulfill their legal burden and show the judge/jury that the defendant should be held liable and ordered to compensate the plaintiffs for their injuries.

Big Rig’s Illegal Turn Leads to Crash with Light Rail Train

San Francisco’s ABC affiliate reported on a serious collision that occurred last Friday between a big rig and a light rail train. Witness reports helped San Francisco Police conclude that the driver of the big rig attempted to turn left onto Third Street from Innes Avenue despite signs clearly stating that left turns were not permitted. While attempting the illegal turn, the 18-wheel truck was struck by the Muni light rail train. Police did not immediately charge the driver despite concluding he was at fault

A growing and troubling problem claimed another life Monday evening in San Leandro, where an 18-year-old woman was struck and killed by a train while she was walking across railroad tracks. The victim, a San Leandro High School senior, did not fit the profile of the average railroad crossing fatality that the Federal Railroad Administration has described, i.e., a 38-year-old Caucasian male who is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and prompts San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod to ask what is behind the increasing number of pedestrian rail fatalities.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the victim, Britany Silva of San Leandro, was walking south along the east side of Hesperian Boulevard near Springlake Drive about 5:55 p.m. when a southbound Amtrak train appeared. Silva was wearing “earbud-style” headphones while she was talking on her cellphone when a witness yelled out to her to stay clear of looming train, according to police. Unfortunately, police said that Silva was not able to respond to the man’s warning, perhaps because she was not able to hear him, and she was struck by the train. Her body was found 50 feet from the intersection, and the train came to a stop several hundred yards after the collision.

Silva, who lived in an apartment complex next to the train tracks, was the second cellphone-related fatality of a teen on railroad tracks in the East Bay in the last few months. In March, a 14-year-old girl died in Martinez after she was struck by a freight train when attempting to retrieve the cellphone that she had dropped on the tracks.

The recent fatalities may be attributable in part to a growing phenomenon of what is known as “distracted walking,” i.e., when a pedestrian is preoccupied with something such as an electronic device and does not see or hear impending danger on a roadway or railroad track. With respect to railroads, an additional factor has been that freight traffic has been growing in the United States in recent years, particularly as a result of increased rail transportation from the nation’s booming oil and gas fields, and thus, unfortunately, there have been more opportunities for pedestrians and trains to cross paths.

Whatever the causes of pedestrian fatalities on railroad tracks in the United States the numbers have been clear and they point to an undeniably disturbing trend. According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, the number of total deaths and injuries sustained by railroad trespassers, excluding those from highway-rail collisions, has been rising nationwide, going from 772 in 2011, to 842 in 2012 to 900 such cases in 2013. California has experienced the same pattern, with injuries and deaths increasing from 96 in 2011, to 118 in 2012 and 127 last year. Counting fatalities alone, there have been 259 railroad trespasser deaths in California from 2010 through 2013, with 76 recorded last year.
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This week saw a couple of important developments concerning safety on the rails emanating from the federal government and railroads. The initiatives, a campaign from a nonprofit backed by railroads, a trade group and the government that stresses the dangers of being near train tracks and a set of proposed rules from the Federal Railroad Administration, are welcome measures. And San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod joins safety advocates in hoping that these steps will help stem the rising number of deaths on railroad tracks.

On Tuesday, ads began appearing on television for a campaign that has been dubbed “See Tracks? Think Train,” in which a young man is shown walking on railroad tracks while wearing headphones and not realizing that a train is approaching. According to KTVU News, the CEO of the campaign sponsor, Joyce Rose of Operation Lifesaver, which is a nonprofit focused on educating people about the hazards of railroads, believes that the uptick in deaths on the rails in 2013 may be tied to the increased use of smartphones and other electronic devices.

“We’re a distracted population,” Rose said.

Causal factors behind the rail deaths can be the subject for debate, but there is no doubt that there was an increase in fatalities from 2012 to 2013. After a period of declines in derailments and crossing accidents, the number of trespassing deaths jumped by 47, or 11 percent, to 476 last year; the number of deaths in accidents rose by nearly 8 percent to 250 last year.

The campaign is also supported by the Association of American Railroads trade group, major railroads and the FRA. Interestingly enough, the “See Tracks? Think Train” initiative comes on the heels of the tragic death late last month in Marysville, California, where a teenager died on train tracks after being hit by a train when trying to save his girlfriend.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Mateus Moore, a student at the Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts and his girlfriend, Mickayla Friend, both 16, were walking on railroad tracks on March 21 and didn’t realize that a train was fast approaching them from behind. Although the train sounded a warning horn and tried to stop it was too late; Moore died after being hit by the train but not before making the fateful decision to shove Friend away, which helped spare her from the brunt of the collision.

Property owners have a duty of care to remove or mitigate conditions that may cause harm to an individual who uses their property for legitimate purposes. And that duty extends to children who may be trespassers but are attracted out of curiosity to investigate the hazardous conditions of a property, i.e., an “attractive nuisance,” which may be grounds for a premises liability and may or may not be relevant in the Marysville case.

The FRA, which is an agency of the Department of Transportation, says that the number of injuries and deaths changes from year to year depending on factors such as construction near train tracks or stepped-up vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

On Wednesday, the FRA announced that it was issuing a proposed rule requiring two-man crews on trains carrying crude oil and setting minimum crew size standards for most freight and passenger trains. Additional FRA guidelines are expected on securing unattended freight cars, requiring railroads to verify securement of those cars for emergency responders, and mandating that locomotive cabs be locked and reversers to be removed and secured.

There have been several incidents involving the spilling of hazardous materials from trains in recent years, but one that triggered an emergency session of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that resulted in the government’s recommendations was the deadly derailment of an unattended freight train carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, on July 6, 2013.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to taking the necessary steps to assure the safety of those who work for railroads and shippers, and the residents and communities along shipping routes,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The proposed rulemaking on crew size is the latest effort in our comprehensive strategy to ensure crude oil is transported as safely as possible.”
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The collision between a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink commuter train on Sept. 12, 2008, in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles was a tragically memorable accident in which 25 people died and another 135 were injured. In the wake of that sad day, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report that pinned the blame for the accident on the engineer of the Metrolink and called for additional safety measures to help prevent future collisions. However, San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod has learned that apparently the NTSB’s recommendations have fallen on deaf ears among some rail agencies in the Bay Area.

The NTSB report determined that the probable cause of the Chatsworth collision was the fact that the Metrolink engineer failed to notice and properly respond to a red signal by stopping at a critical juncture because he was distracted from his duties while text messaging. The NTSB identified two specific safety issues relevant to the Chatsworth incident, which were as follows:

  • Inadequate capability, because of the privacy offered by a locomotive operating compartment, for management to monitor crew member adherence to operating rules such as those regarding the use of wireless devices or the presence of unauthorized persons in the operating compartment.
  • Lack of a positive train control system on the Metrolink rail system.

The NTSB’s safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration were very specific as well, including the need to install audio and image recorders within locomotive cabs to verify that crew actions were in compliance with the rules and procedures necessary for safety and train operation. In addition, the NTSB recommended that railroads regularly review and employ the audio and image recorders in tandem with other performance data.

One would think that a high-profile tragedy with multiple fatalities such as the Chatsworth train accident would be a seminal event that would prompt train authorities to review their safety measures and modify them as needed, especially with a major report with safety recommendations having been produced by the relevant federal agency as a result of the accident. However, according to KTVU News, in the Bay Area the NTSB’s recommendations have gone largely unheeded among the region’s transit agencies.

Among the key rail agencies, Amtrak is working on installing equipment that the NTSB recommended in its cars by 2015; BART has added the suggested cab interior cameras but lacks a video view of its tracks; and Caltrain has no cameras within locomotives but has cameras outside its trains.

“If an engineer runs a signal the system will automatically stop the train,” said Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn. “If another train is coming into the station too fast, it’s going to slow that train down. It’s going to prevent accidents.”
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Bay Area rail commuters have several train networks to choose from to move about the region, and Caltrain undoubtedly ranks as one of the better known systems. But the train service that runs from San Francisco through the San Mateo Peninsula and on to the San Jose area received attention in January it would rather not have, as there were two separate incidents that resulted in fatalities. With such a tragic start to 2014, our Bay Area train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod is among those people who are asking questions about train safety in our region.

And here is the most sobering thought to work with as a starting point for asking questions about rail safety: Thirteen people died in all of 2013 when they were struck by a Caltrain vehicle, making the two such deaths in January 2014, one on Monday, Jan. 20, in Santa Clara, and the other on Friday, Jan. 31 in Redwood City, such an unsettling statistic.

The first rail fatality of 2014 occurred on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when, according to the San Jose Mercury News, a Good Samaritan named Philip Scholz died while trying to save the life of another person. Scholz, who was waiting for a train ride home while at the raised platform at the Caltrain Santa Clara station, saw another man down on the tracks. He then dropped his backpack, lay down on his belly and reached for the other individual on the tracks. Unfortunately, a commuter train rushing through the station at 50 to 70 mph did not stop and slammed into the two men at about 5:30 p.m., killing Scholz. The identity of the other man, who survived the incident, has not been released.

Surveillance footage of the incident revealed that Scholz was looking at the man on the tracks, perhaps even talking to him before he decided to attempt to pull the man to safety. However, it is still not known why the man was on the tracks in the first place, nor how he was able to survive the collision with the Caltrain.

In the second railroad tracks fatality of this year, which occurred at about 6:15 a.m. on the last day of the month, a woman was killed when she was struck by a Caltrain at the Redwood City station. As in the case of the tragedy in Santa Clara earlier in the month, the Caltrain that killed the woman was a fast-moving express train that was not scheduled to stop at the station on its way north to San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the circumstances of the woman’s death are under investigation and her identity has not been released.
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A small town in eastern North Dakota experienced fireworks in a spectacular and potentially deadly way one day before New Year’s Eve when an oil train derailed Monday afternoon and exploded into a fiery display of flames and black smoke near Casselton, N.D. And while incidents such as the train derailment in North Dakota are rare, San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod would remind us that the consequences of the few derailments that do occur can be devastating.

Fortunately, no one was injured when a BNSF Railway train left the tracks near Casselton, but out of an abundance of caution the town’s 2,400 residents temporarily evacuated in the wake of the derailment of the mile-long train, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The train included oil tankers which, upon overturning, exploded and unleashed voluminous flames and black smoke for more than 24 hours.

As Oil Industry Expands Production, Shipments by Rail Become More Common
Casselton Mayor Ed McConnell expressed the fears and anger of many in the town and elsewhere in the state when he called for federal officials to implement more concrete safety measures. With the booming oil sector in North Dakota producing ever larger amounts of petroleum and train companies hauling the bulk of the industry’s output, it’s not hard to see why the mayor would be so concerned.

“This is too close for comfort,” McConnell said Tuesday. “There have been numerous derailments in this area. It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when.”

The mayor does not have to rely on a guessing game to back up his grim forecast, as there has been a sharp increase in the number of oil train releases over the last few years, even as less than 0.1 percent of oil tank cars have experienced accidental releases this year. But that has translated into spillage of crude oil from 137 rail cars in 2013, compared with only one release in all of 2009.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a probe into the Casselton derailment, but preliminary statements from one NTSB member included the observation that the overturned tankers in question were older model DOT-111 tankers, which have been prone to rupture in previous accidents.

A Toxic, Deadly Trail of Derailments Before Disaster in North Dakota
Prior to the derailment in North Dakota, the most recent major incident involving crude-carrying train cars occurred Nov. 8 when more than two dozen oil tankers derailed into an Alabama swamp, unloading almost 750,000 gallons of crude and sparking another conflagration.

While there were also no injuries in the Alabama derailment, residents of the Quebec town of Lac Megantic were not so lucky in July, when a train carrying crude from North Dakota derailed, killing 47 people.

July also marked the 22nd anniversary of the biggest railway chemical spill in California history. On the fateful morning of July 14, 1991, a Southern Pacific Railroad tank car derailed on the tricky section of track along the Sacramento River called the Cantara Loop. The resulting spillage of 19,000 gallons of the soil fumigant metam sodium destroyed all life in a 41-mile stretch of the river, including more than one million fish and thousands of trees, according to the state Department of Toxic Substance Control. Southern Pacific ultimately paid $38 million for damages, cleanup and river restoration.
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