Who is Responsible for Train Accidents?

Who is Responsible for Train AccidentsWhen companies or new technologies encounter growing pains, that usually means some financial or business difficulties, or perhaps technical difficulties. It is not supposed to mean death, but the growing pains that are being suffered by Florida’s new railway system, Brightline, have led to a number of fatal accidents during the railway’s short existence.

A Rash of Brightline Accidents

Brightline is a new, high speed rail system, designed to connect Florida’s often spread out metropolitan areas and to give Florida’s public transportation system a new boost. Incidents in or around Brightline trains have caused many to question the safety of the trains, and of rail travel in general.

In February, a Brightline train hit a pedestrian in Wilton Manors. That was the sixth Brightline accident since the railway started testing its trains. Incredibly, the man was not seriously injured because he was laying between the tracks and the train rolled over him instead of through him.

For some prior Brightline accidents, many of which were fatal, police are blaming cyclists or pedestrians attempting to cross tracks when the trains were approaching. In some cases, Brightline has produced videos from cameras which are installed on its trains, showing cyclists and motorists traversing tracks with the guard gates down. Eyewitnesses corroborate those reports.

Other incidents involved cars that were struck while sitting on the tracks, evidencing that cars were trying to beat the train, or were not clearing a space on the tracks when waiting in traffic.

In an early Brightline accident, a woman struck by the train in Boynton Beach was thought to have been on the tracks and trying to beat the train when she was hit and killed.

A woman in Boca Raton was killed by a Brightline train, but investigators believe that her death was a suicide. Suicide is such a big issues with trains that in 2017, before Brightline began operating, Tri-Rail instituted an anti-suicide hotline and began an awareness campaign on the issue. Some of the victims may have suffered from mental illness or suffered from opioid addiction.

Causes of Brighline Accidents

Brightline uses the CSX tracks, which often go through the easternmost parts of South Florida. Those areas tend to have more vehicle traffic, more intersections, more foot traffic, more people rushing to or from work, and because of the close proximity to clubs and nightlife, the areas tend to have more alcohol. This all means a higher likelihood of accidents.

Combine that with the fact that most people are used to the slower, plodding CSX trains that use the railways. Brightline trains travel at about 80mph; they can be on top of any person or car that is sitting on the tracks as fast as a person can notice the train coming.

The thinking by some has been that if a CSX train was coming, they would see it and could avoid it. Then Brightline’s high speed trains come along, moving faster than anybody has ever seen a train go on those tracks, and you can see the result.

The Push for Increased Safety

Many say that these are the reasons why the Brightline trains should not be able to operate, at least until the crossings themselves, designed originally for the slower CSX trains, can be redesigned for the faster Brightline trains.

Some cities are trying to take the lead in instituting safety measures, even if it is to protect pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists from themselves. Boynton Beach and other areas in South Florida are installing new guard gates that do not have a gap in the middle of them, the way traditional gate arms do.

These gates are extraordinarily expensive compared to the older, more traditional ones. Many leaders feel that if someone wants to rush a train, or injure themselves, they will do so no matter what kind of gates are put up.

Brightline itself has started a public awareness campaign, and employed off-duty officers to monitor railroad crossings. It has also started installing signs, lights, and other devices. As an added benefit, the safety devices would allow the train to avoid using horns, thus curbing noise issues in surrounding neighborhoods.

Train Safety Law is Vague

The law is vague when it comes to what railroads need to do to make intersections safe. The law does say that pedestrians must use due care for their own safety around crossings. The law also requires advance warning signs, but does not specifically detail what those should be.

Trains must blow their horn within 1,500 feet of a crossing, but there are exceptions to that law. If a city implements additional security measures that conform with Department of Transportation standards, the horns do not need to sound. The city does have to post signs warning people that the horns will not sound.

Foreseeability May Force Use of Safety Measures

Even when people voluntarily enter closed tracks or try to beat trains, there may be a legal obligation on behalf of the government and rail line to make crossings safer. The law will look at foreseeability. If a city or railway knows that an area is congested, with traffic and trains and people walking the streets near nightlife, there may be a heightened duty to implement safety measures to avoid accidents. A railway cannot just allow accidents to repeatedly happen and blame the people who are injured, even if those people are not exactly acting prudently.

Liability suits involving railroads can be complex. When there is a death involved, the circumstances of the accident may have to be recreated by witnesses and experts.

Finding the liable party can be difficult, as well, because in many cases, trains by one railway are using CSX’s tracks. Who has responsibility can be a complex factual question involving contractual agreements between the railways and CSX. In some cases, as consideration for using CSX’s tracks, a railway may agree with CSX that it will defend and pay any lawsuits, even if it looks like CSX is at fault.

Railroad accidents can have many different causes, and may need professional analysis to determine who is liable. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your injuries if you are in an accident on or around a train or railroad tracks.