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Legal Blog

Railroad Regulation Under Increased Scrutiny

A railroad regulation can help prevent accidents on train tracks like these.

It’s no secret that the United States railroad network needs an overhaul. Scrutiny of our aging railways tends to spike whenever there is an accident, but behind the scenes, lawmakers have been pushing railroad regulation for years. For example, in 2008, Congress ordered that all railways would need to be equipped with positive train control (PTC) systems by the end of 2015.

PTC is a system that relies on the global positioning system (GPS) to track trains and slow them down if necessary to avoid a collision. The system is effective, but expensive. As a result, Congress had to move back its deadlines for the implementation of PTC until the end of 2018. The situation could not be more urgent. With 828 deaths, 2017 was the deadliest year for U.S. railroads in over a decade.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, contact an attorney at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. at (281) 283-8500 to schedule a free case consultation.

How Will Positive Train Control Reduce Accidents?

Train crashes have been dominating the news cycle in recent months. In December, an Amtrak train derailed near Seattle after the engineer misread a signal and sped through a 30 mph zone at 78 miles per hour. Three people were killed, and dozens injured. In January, an Amtrak passenger train crashed into a garbage truck at a crossing in Virginia, killing its driver. And on February 4, an Amtrak train collided with a freight train in South Carolina, injuring over 100 hundred people and killing two.

Positive train control would have prevented the Seattle and South Carolina incidents. When the engineer of the Seattle train failed to slow down for a tight curve, PTC would have intervened and slowed the train down automatically. In South Carolina, PTC would have enabled dispatchers to keep track of the trains and prevent their collision.

US Railroads Have Been Unable to Meet their Upgrade Schedule

Despite the looming deadline, the Transportation Department reported last fall that only 45 percent of freight railways and just 24 percent of passenger railways have installed PTC systems. 12 out of the 41 concerned railways had installed less than half of the equipment necessary for the PTC systems to work.

In a letter dated December 27, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urged the nation’s railroads to accelerate the installation of the PTC system. Yet it is unlikely that all U.S. railroads will be in compliance by the end of the year. Congress will probably extend the compliance deadline until 2020, and in the meantime, we can expect more accidents to occur.

Who is Liable in a Passenger Train Accident?

In light of recent crashes, many are wondering who is responsible for the injury or death to passengers on an Amtrak train. Amtrak bears that responsibility, even if it wasn’t at fault for the accident.

In South Carolina, for example, dispatchers for freight rail operator CSX routed an Amtrak train into one of its parked trains. Thus, CSX caused the accident. But CSX and Amtrak have an agreement that makes Amtrak solely responsible for accidents, even when they’re caused by CSX. This is one of the many conditions Amtrak must submit to in order to use CSX-owned railways.

The total damages available to the victims of an Amtrak accident has been capped at $295 million by the federal government. This may sound like a large number, but when you consider that there may be hundreds of injured people in an accident and significant property damage to pay for, not everyone will get the compensation they deserve.

The Krist Law Firm, P.C. Can Help

At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to guiding injured parties through the compensation process, whether through an insurance claim, a negotiated settlement, or a lawsuit. If you or a family member has been injured in a railroad accident, our Houston railroad accident lawyers can help. Contact us today at (281) 283-8500 to schedule your free consultation.