Is it Time for a Broader Debate About Transportation Safety?


The Department of Transportation has a number of issues to tackle now, including spending on the nation’s highway infrastructure and strengthening the safety of motor vehicles, which we discussed in one of our blog posts last week. It seems likely that railroad safety will be added to that list following the two high profile train accidents to make the national news over the past month.

The first incident, on February 3rd outside of New York City, involved a Metro-North passenger train which derailed after striking an SUV on the tracks.

The second incident involved the derailment of a train pulling more than 100 oil tank cars during a snowstorm in West Virginia on Monday, February 16. As the crude oil exploded, it sent a massive fireball into the sky which was captured and played on the national news media.

Following these two accidents, there have been calls for improvement to both the safety of rail crossings and the transportation of crude oil by train.

Senators Schumer and Blumenthal have already announced that they will propose a bill to increase federal funding to improve the safety of railroad crossings. The Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015 will strengthen funding for improved education, engineering and enforcement at railroad crossings.

More than 200 people were killed nationwide at the nearly 2,100 grade crossing accidents last year. According to Operation Lifesaver, a person or vehicle is hit by a train roughly every three hours.

Additional regulation of trains carrying oil is likely to be on the way as well. The U.S. Department of Transportation developed a proposal for tougher regulation of the industry over the summer. The plan went to the White House for final review this month. It would require tougher shells on cars carrying oil and advanced braking systems.

However, it is not clear that the measures proposed would have prevented the West Virginia derailment. The government will probably take a fresh look at the regulations in light of the results of the present investigation. If the measures are determined inadequate, there will likely be additional rules put in place.

With the safety of motor vehicles and truck driving also hot issues, this could be the right time for comprehensive legislation to attempt to address the nation’s transportation problems. Perhaps it is time for a “Dodd-Frank” type bill before things get worse in the transportation industry.

Congress will consider a number of bills over the next year to improve motor vehicle safety and delayed recalls by manufacturers. There may also be support for changes to the regulation of truck drivers following the high profile crash between a Walmart truck and the limo carrying Tracy Morgan this summer. Given all of the transportation safety issues, a comprehensive bill might be best. This would probably also help the chances of passage for whistleblower rewards in the auto industry.

We will continue to follow these issues here as solutions are proposed. Railroad injuries are a major aspect of our trial attorneys’ practice. Jim McEldrew has represented clients in railroad litigation, including lawsuits under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) by railroad workers, for years. He also has extensive experience litigating serious injuries due to accidents involving cars and trucks.

Photo Credit.