Passenger Train Collides with Freight Train, 5 Critically Injured

track-wreckForty-four passengers and crew have been impacted as a result of a train accident near Fayetteville, Ark., on Oct. 16. Of those, 39 were able to walk away from the accident while five were critically injured. One of the injured people was a conductor; he was airlifted away from the accident after having suffered what are believed to be injuries to his back. This individual may need to contact a FELA claim lawyer after he is treated to make sure his legal rights are protected.

The two trains collided near Brentwood, a sparsely populated unincorporated community located about 15 miles south of Fayetteville, a city of 70,000 that is home to the University of Arkansas. A passenger train had stalled on the tracks before a second train that had been sent to assist struck it head on at about 10:40 a.m. CDT.

Fourteen of those who were hurt that morning were taken to Washington Regional Medical Center, a 366-bed acute care hospital located in Fayetteville. According to spokeswoman Gina Maddox, all of them were in stable condition hours after the accident, an improvement on the situation earlier in the day as all of the critically injured people had been sent here. However, each of these injured individuals will likely still be looking for the services of a railroad accident attorney in the coming hours and days.

Between Brentwood and West Fork, a small city with a population of 2,000 that is located about 8 miles to the north of Brentwood, U.S. 71 was completely blocked off due to the large number of emergency vehicles that crowded the road that morning. These included vehicles operated by Washington County Emergency Services, a hazardous materials unit from Fayetteville and a number of local fire departments.

According to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, the road reopened at 1:30 p.m., a little less than three hours after the FELA railroad accident and about 90 minutes after the final injured parties had been taken to nearby medical facilities.

The collision appeared to have taken place between U.S. 71 and the train tracks that are located to the west of it in a wooded area. In that general area, the West Fork of the White River runs near the railroad tracks. However, it was initially unclear if that waterway was affected by the 300 gallons of diesel fuel that appeared to have leaked as a result of the accident. Four railway cars and two engines were damaged in the crash as well.

The train that had been stopped on the tracks was an excursion train that is regularly operated by the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. This company is based in Springdale, Ark., a city located immediately north of Fayetteville. According to the organization’s website, a train departed Springdale at 8 a.m. for a 135-mile “scenic excursion through the Boston Mountains with a three-hour layover in downtown Van Buren for lunch and shopping” before returning. The round-trip journey was expected to take eight hours.

The Arkansas and Missouri Railroad is a Class III railroad that offers rail car freight business in addition to scenic passenger journeys on refurbished antique cars such as the cars that were taken on this day. In fact, this company owns the tracks on which the accident occurred as well as the second train that had been attempting to provide support for the first one.

The passenger train operations manager for the company, Brenda Rouse, did not provide further comment on the collision other than to say that it was under investigation.

Individuals from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive in northwest Arkansas later in the day to investigate the crash as well.

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Regulators Were Aware of Questionable Transport of Oil Before Accidents

Train FireFrequently, big companies bend the rules. Examples include big pharmaceutical firms, which routinely release medications without adequate testing. Truckers are known for driving too many hours in too few days. Now, the surge in moving oil across the United States and Canada by railway has come under close scrutiny. It seems railway cars used on these “mobile pipelines” have been overloaded and mislabeled, which has led to explosions. Those explosions have captured the eye of many a railroad accident attorney and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). It seems giant corporations are at it again. They bend the rules regardless of how great the consequences may be. Profits seem to be more important to these companies than human lives.

Even as lawmakers scramble to establish new rules regarding the mile-long trains hauling oil, NBC News has obtained documentation proving that regulators knew that these train cars were being overloaded and mislabeled since at least 2011. That was 18 months before 47 people were killed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, during the first accident involving these vehicles loaded to the gills with highly flammable oil.

In Western North Dakota, oil production has increased mightily in Bakken. Now, some 1 million barrels of oil per day are shipped via “unit trains” that roll directly through U.S. and Canadian cities. This is predominantly due to the lack of a pipeline infrastructure. Observers have said that not enough attention has been given to ensuring the safety of these pipelines on steel wheels. Certainly, railroad injury attorneys have noticed and are lining up to file cases against the negligent oil companies that mislabel their products as Packing Group III when the shipments are really in the more flammable Packing Groups I or II. The overloading also makes the rail cars more susceptible to incidents that cause the oil to explode. Some of the rail cars were just unsafe for oil transportation.

Oil trains have derailed in such widely scattered locations as North Dakota, Alabama and New Brunswick, Canada. Fortunately, these accidents did not cause any serious injuries. However, nearly 1,500 people who live in Casselton, N.D., were forced to flee their homes after an oil train crash on December 30, 2013, caused giant fireballs when over 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled.

NBC used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents that proved regulators were conscious of these issues for years. As early as October 2011 and June 2012, the FRA performed inspections on oil transportation and the increased number of loading operations in Bakken. The report, which was called “North Dakota–The Next Hazardous Materials Frontier,” stated that the train cars being used were “out of specification” for the job of hauling oil. These cars were also being overloaded and sent on their way in the hopes that nothing bad would occur.

A local consultant on chemical safety and railroad transportation said that the railways were being used because they were ready and convenient. Companies are clamoring for tank cars to ship the oil, which has led to the oil being shipped in an unsafe fashion. The shortage of available, safe cars was described as a “major concern.” He also said that it is obvious there is inadequate infrastructure and ineffective regulation. Inspectors wrote that the reason these unsafe cars were being used is that the pressure to ship the oil is greater than the risk of failing to get the crude to the refineries.

After fines were levied against companies that were responsible for overloaded and mislabeled cars derailing and causing evacuations, the companies began searching for ways to bolster the cars against future spills, but as train accident attorneys can attest, the cattle have already left the barn. New laws may be enacted, but there has already been plenty of damage caused by another issue of major industry’s greed.

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The Staggering Economic Costs of Auto Accidents

car-accidentIn its October 2014 edition of Vital Signs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented in-depth information regarding the financial costs of auto accidents on the U.S. economy. According to the CDC, car crashes accounted for over 2.5 million visits to the emergency room and 200,000 hospitalizations in 2012 alone. These injuries are expected to add up to $18 billion in medical costs over the lifetime of the victims and to result in $33 billion in lost work and productivity. For accident victims in Houston, Texas who are affected by these catastrophic car crashes, enlisting the help of a Houston auto accident lawyer can provide added help in obtaining compensation for their injuries and losses.

Texas Residents at Higher Risk

Statistics released by the CDC in 2010 indicated that the state of Texas ranked second in financial losses incurred due to auto accidents with $3.5 billion in costs directly attributable to these incidents. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recorded more than 3,300 traffic-related fatalities in 2013. When the cost of these deaths is factored in to the other economic losses suffered by victims, employers and families in Texas, TxDOT estimates the total financial damages caused by vehicle accidents at $25.7 billion for the 2013 calendar year. These losses represent a serious blow to the economic health of the state of Texas and to the U.S. as a whole.

Outlining the Economic Damages

The costs of a single auto accident can comprise a wide range of expenditures, losses and damages. Some of the most common expenses involved in an accident include the following:

• Repair or replacement of vehicles damaged in a crash
• Damage to contents, including cargo for semi-truck trailers and other large trucks
• Rental car expenditures during the repair process
• Medical expenses for emergency room visits, hospitalizations, physical therapy and other rehabilitation regimens
• Long-term nursing care in the patient’s home or in a skilled-care facility
• Lost wages due to missed work time
• Reduced earning potential for seriously injured or disabled accident victims
• Funeral expenses and lifetime loss of earnings for those killed in auto accidents

When all of these costs are figured into the economic losses sustained during a single calendar year, the resulting sum is astronomical. To put these costs into perspective, the total value of Texas oil production each year is estimated to be $100 billion. The financial losses sustained annually due to automobile accidents in the state equal approximately one-fourth of that figure.

Saving Lives and Reducing Economic Costs

A few simple steps could significantly reduce the number of fatalities and the economic losses sustained due to auto accidents.

• Seat belts save lives and reduce the severity of injuries for those involved in car crashes. Increased enforcement of seat belt laws already on the books could potentially save millions over the course of a single year.
• Mandatory implementation of systems designed to provide alerts to drowsy drivers could prevent accidents caused by fatigue. This is especially critical for drivers of 18-wheeler trucks who spend many hours on the road during a typical week.
• Improved education for teen drivers that highlights the dangers of distracted driving and speeding.
• Tougher penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could reduce the number of accidents caused by these activities.

Learning to drive defensively can also help Texas drivers to avoid accidents and to reduce the overall personal and economic costs associated with these traumatic events.

If you have been financially impacted by an auto accident, consulting a qualified Houston personal injury attorney can help you obtain compensation for your losses and injuries. An experienced 18-wheeler accident lawyer can provide guidance and support in navigating the insurance claim process and in achieving a fair settlement that takes into account all the economic costs of these serious accidents for you and your family.

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OSHA Orders Burlington Northern Santa Fe to Pay $30K to Whistleblower

railroad-accidentsThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled in favor of Adam Johnson on Oct. 1, 2014 as his employer, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), was judged to have retaliated against him after he reported a work-related injury and provided the company with his physician’s treatment plan. Thanks to his FELA attorneys, BNSF was ordered by the federal agency to pay Johnson back wages retroactive to April, emotional distress damages and legal fees totaling more than $30,000. He will also have his former or a similar position, benefits and seniority restored.

After he was injured, Johnson suffered periodic headaches and was encouraged by his doctor to take time off of work when they were severe. However, BNSF responded by ruling that he violated its “availability” policy in late 2013 for several absences from work, many of which had taken place after his work-related injury occurred.

A month after it ruled similarly again in March following absences in December, January and February that were related to his injury, the company let him go. BNSF cited violations of its Employee Performance and Accountability policies related to its attendance guidelines.

In between those two instances, the Mandan, N.D., switchman contacted OSHA through its whistleblower program and communicated that BNSF had illegally retaliated against him after he reported his injury and treatment plan. He added that his rights had been violated under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. OSHA investigated his claim and determined that it had merit as it was clear that his doing so was a contributing factor in his later being terminated by the company.

“Reporting an injury and a subsequent treatment plan ordered by a physician, regardless of an employer’s policy or deadline, is protected activity by law,” Gregory Baxter, an OSHA regional administrator who works out of Denver, said in a press release. “BNSF failed to prove that its personnel actions were anything other than retaliation.”

If it desires, the nation’s second-largest freight railroad network has 30 days from the time it received OSHA’s order to file any objections or request a hearing before the organization’s Office of Administrative Law judges. If no objections are filed during this time period, the findings will become final.

BNSF, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, operates trains through every state in the continental United States west of Alabama. Its trains travel nearly 200 million miles per year, the most of any company of its type located in North America. It has operated since 1996, first as the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway before taking its slightly altered current name in 2005.

Johnson’s hometown of Mandan is located across the Missouri River from North Dakota’s state capital, Bismarck. As part of this settlement, BNSF was also ordered to provide employees at its Mandan facilities with a copy of the Federal Rail Safety Act Fact Sheet to ensure that they are informed of their rights.

The whistleblower program, which may be accessed at Whistleblowers.gov, provides an avenue for employees in a variety of industries to report violations to laws that their employers had committed. Workers are protected from any repercussions that may stem from reporting work-related injuries or violations of workplace safety, environmental or railroad laws. This is thanks to the Occupational and Health Act of 1970, which ensured that employers are responsible for providing safe workplaces, and those voicing violations of these rights should not be punished for doing so. If they are, attorneys such as a railroad injury lawyer should be consulted to make sure that the appropriate amount of compensation is provided for violating those rights.

Railroad workers who are injured on the job are specifically protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act. Individuals who suffer these types of injuries should contact train accident attorneys to ensure that their rights are protected.

Johnson was hurt in August 2013 while switching in a BNSF yard in Mandan.

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Railroad and Oil Industries Request Seven Years to Upgrade Tanker Cars

Train FireTo increase safety, transportation officials are proposing new regulations for transporting oil. However, oil and railway companies are protesting the suggested timeframe for complying with the regulation changes. The number of rail accidents occurring in the United States and Canada has grown in recent years. These accidents have caused deaths as well as severe environmental damage. An experienced railroad worker injury attorney can help people gain compensation after they have been harmed in railway accidents.

Railcar Failure

Oil and railroad companies have been busy claiming the other is to blame for the many explosions and leaks. Oil companies assert that track issues and human error are the reason for the numerous accidents while railroad companies declare that tank cars are not able to withstand crashes and oil is too combustible to travel in cars by rail. A major problem is that the cars were originally designed to transport nonhazardous materials like fruit juice and corn syrup.

The Proposed Timeline

The Federal Transportation Department is proposing a two-year timeline for the retrofitting of older railway cars. The oil and railroad industries are both pushing back on the timeframe and are requesting that regulators give them seven years to complete the upgrades. Jack Gerard, the American Petroleum Institute’s president, told correspondents that manufacturers need six to 12 months to prepare to renovate the tens of thousands of railcars that require the update. Mr. Gerard also claims that they need an additional three years to complete the repairs. The oil and railroad companies are asking for another three years to retrofit railcars that have been produced after 2011.

One railcar manufacturer contradicted the others by confirming that the two-year timeline was difficult, but they could probably do it. If federal regulators grant the timeline extension, it could result in additional safety issues. People who have been harmed by a railroad company should contact a railroad accident attorney to see if they are eligible for compensation.

Tougher Safety Regulations

The Transportation Department’s proposals include developing a new standard for the brakes in tank cars, imposing speed limits and creating special routes around areas with large populations. The department would also like the industry to destroy its oldest cars and retrofit newer models.

Why the Companies are Protesting the Safety Changes

According to railcar manufacturers, they do not have enough steel available to make the changes. In addition, railcar officials claim that they are lacking qualified laborers, such as welders, to complete the retrofitting job in the time requested by government regulators. Oil and railroad officials also stated that the short timeline could harm consumers by interrupting the transport of other products like gasoline, ethanol and chemicals. Companies convey these goods in the same tanker car models that the oil industry uses to transport its products.

Agreed Upon Safety Changes

Oil and railroad companies have agreed to implement a safer design for new tanker cars. Thermal blankets are included in the new design. Railcar manufacturers will install the safety feature between the tank car casings and the outer coverings. If a fire starts, the blanket will stop the oil contained within the car from heating up and exploding.

Citizens Respond

The oil industry has expanded its crude oil rail shipments from several thousand carloads 10 years ago to more than 430,000 just last year. Since 2008, the United States and Canada have seen 10 major railroad derailments involving oil shipments. Agents from the Transportation Department report that the public, businesses and elected representatives have expressed concerns about safety and are suggesting changes for transporting oil by rail car. Citizens made requests that ranged from banning the shipping practice altogether to developing special routes to prevent the shipments from entering the country’s national parks. Train accident lawyers can help those who have been affected by incidents caused by transporting oil by rail.

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