Pedestrian Train Accident Lawyers
Representing Clients Across the Country
Pedestrians often take shortcuts across or along railroad tracks that divide neighborhoods and cities. When pedestrians are injured or killed while doing so, railroad companies can be quick to label and vilify the victims as “trespassers.”
The Dangers Posed by Inadequate Measures for Pedestrian Railroad Safety
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and other industry leaders recognize that the relationship between pedestrians and railroad tracks is complicated. Many pedestrians choose to use unofficial pathways rather than go miles out of their way to reach designated vehicle crossings for their daily trips to school, work, and grocery stores. Recreational activities such as walking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, and many more may bring individuals dangerously close to railroad tracks. Wheelchairs can become stuck on poorly maintained crossings. Children are naturally drawn to railroad tracks and trains. This inherent curiosity combined with inadequate safety measures and systems can be tragic.
Railroads are aware that rights-of-way are dangerous places for pedestrians. The Federal Railroad Administration has organized industry workshops to address nationwide safety concerns and “to identify and recommend new and existing strategies that the rail industry could pursue to assist in reducing the number of pedestrian and trespasser casualties.” Access presentations from the 2012 and 2015 workshops.
Representatives from major freight and passenger railroads have attended these workshops, including BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern, as well as many other regional and local freight and passenger railroads.
Workshops That Discussed Industry Standards for Recommended Fencing Practices
Recommendations of the 2012 Workshop
The FRA issued a summary of the recommended best practices to abate right-of-way casualties. This included recommendations from the “Design, Technology, & Infrastructure Group,” the group responsible for engineering solutions such as fencing. The number one recommendation from the group to prevent casualties was fencing. The group stated, “There is a real need to seal our corridors [rights-of-way] and we need a more robust style of fencing.” They concluded that the industry needs “to find a way to keep up with chain-link fencing repairs,” which indicates that the industry is using chain-link fencing to prevent trespassing. They also stated that bulk-buy would make using fencing to mitigate intrusion onto rights-of-way more cost-effective.
FRA Trespass Prevention Research Study
Study of trespass activity and mitigation for a specific urban site in West Palm Beach, Florida. Presented an assessment methodology for trespassing clusters (based on seriousness and frequency of activity) and the methods for mitigating those problems. Fencing and “channeling” pedestrians is promoted as a mitigation technique. BNSF follows neither strategy.
CPUC Rail & Transit Hazard Management Program
- Trespassers will take most direct route;
- Barriers such as fencing need to be utilized; and
- Safety must not be compromised for aesthetics or convenience.
Hazardous Assessment Approach to Trespass Management
This study discusses a basic method for prioritizing fencing projects so they will be most effective. Based primarily on number of trespass reports, previous accidents, and debris strikes. Fencing should be placed to abate trespassing.
What These Studies Say
Industry research shows that fencing and other economical engineering solutions are highly effective deterrents. The journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention conducted a study in Finland to track countermeasures to right-of-way trespass. The study measured the impact of three trespass mitigation strategies at highly trespassed areas, namely fencing, landscaping barriers, and signage. The largest reduction in the number of trespasses was found for fencing (94.6%), followed by landscaping (91.3%). Signage reduced trespassing by 30%, but the study concluded that this drop would be temporary unless law enforcement strictly enforced the signage. In short, physical barriers like fencing are highly effective in reducing rights-of-way casualties.
Similarly, the FRA tracked trespassing along the Florida East Coast Railway, finding that trespassing was an “epidemic,” and recommended fencing as a part of the trespassing mitigation strategy. An East Coast railroad reported that installing fencing to channel pedestrians to safe crossings was highly effective in reducing trespassing casualties.
The rail industry clearly views pedestrian casualties on railroad rights-of-way as their deadliest problem. Equally clear, the railroad industry and the FRA regard fencing as an effective and important tool in preventing right-of-way casualties. Despite this, most railroads have refused to incorporate any of these recommended practices.
Today, the leading rail-related type of death in the United States is pedestrians killed on railroad rights-of-way. While crossing accidents have long highlighted the need for safety improvements, more pedestrians are killed in non-crossing accidents than are in motor vehicle crossing accidents. Nationally, more than 500 pedestrian fatalities occur each year, and nearly as many are injured. Although far less publicized, more pedestrians are killed on railroad tracks than are killed in crossing accidents. The majority of these are preventable.
Pedestrian Train Accident Cases We've Litigated
St. Paul, Minnesota
Joe Sayler represented a nine-year-old boy who lost both of his feet while playing by BNSF tracks in St. Paul, Minnesota. The railroad was aware that elementary-aged children routinely played and even built forts in this area. Highly visible footpaths crossing over the tracks had been used for more than fifty years. Other injuries and deaths had occurred in the area, but still the railroad refused to construct fences or take any engineering action—despite a Minnesota law requiring them to fence off their tracks and right-of-way.
Sayler determined this key information during discovery, and therefore was able to recover enough compensation to take care of the boy’s lifetime medical and living expenses. BNSF still has not fenced off the tracks.
San Leandro, California
Brittney Silva was struck and killed by a train at a skewed crossing in San Leandro, California, just weeks before her high school graduation. Other pedestrians had been killed at this same crossing.
Through diligent and hard-fought work, the team at Bolt Law Firm uncovered that the railroad had received funds from the federal government years before to correct the hazardous crossing. Instead, the railroad sat on these funds rather than fix the crossing.
Working backward from a single photograph, we were also able to prove that the pedestrian warnings at the crossing had been improperly installed and did not provide adequate warning to pedestrians. This violated both California and federal laws. The railroad was quick to accuse Brittney of using her cell phone at the time of the accident, even reporting this to the media. We discredited this accusation by accessing cell phone records and reconstructing the accident.
The crossing has since been corrected and updated with proper pedestrian safety warnings.
The Florida East Coast Railway runs along the state’s highly-populated coast from Jacksonville to Miami. Because its tracks run through communities, often dividing neighborhoods in half, numerous pedestrian injuries and deaths have occurred.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics show that more than 158 pedestrians have been killed on FEC’s tracks in the last ten years, or nearly one person for every two miles of track. This is more pedestrian fatalities on FEC rights-of-way in the last ten years than CSX and Amtrak combined, two railroads that operate thousands of miles of track in Florida compared to FEC’s 387.
The FRA has studied that situation, and declared that “trespassing is an epidemic on FEC’s right-of-way” and recommended that FEC construct fences or other barriers to protect pedestrians. The study has been widely reported. FEC, along with Class 1 railroads such as BNSF, Union Pacific, and Norfolk Southern, have attended trespass prevention workshops at which the study was discussed.
Despite this study, the workshops, and recommendations for fencing or other barriers, FEC has not fenced its track. Pedestrian fatalities and injuries continue to occur. In 2017, All Aboard Florida, which is owned by the same hedge fund as FEC, will begin operating high-speed trains on the same tracks and corridor as FEC’s freight operations.
Bolt Law Firm attorney Joe Saylor is currently working on multiple FEC cases.
For more information on these or other case studies, contact the experienced railroad attorneys of Bolt Law Firm.
Contact the skilled, experienced attorneys of Bolt Law Firm if you or a family member were involved in a pedestrian train accident.