Resignation of FRA Official Heath Hall Raises Ethical Concerns

The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for safety on the railroads. However, in an era of frequent train crashes its role is being questioned as well as that of FRA official Heath Hall who recently resigned.

Hall is the former deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. He resigned his position over the weekend amid concerns about “outside work” he took on while he was in the position.

The Washington Post reported an ethics group submitted a letter to the Department of Justice Tuesday requesting an investigation into Hall.

The Campaign for Accountability said the department should look at whether Hall violated federal criminal law by filing a public financial disclosure report in which he allegedly falsely claimed he would not be receiving outside income.

Resignation of FRA official Heath Hall
Concerns over Resignation of FRA official Heath Hall

The group is claiming Strategic Marketing Group, a public relations firm where Hall served as president, continued to receive thousands of dollars in money while Hall was a senior official in the rail safety agency.

In August, Hall was apparently quoted by Mississippi television station WJTV as a representative of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.

No employee appointed by the president to a full-time position in the executive branch is allowed to receive earned income for outside employment.

Slate noted Hall found time to appear at least twice in local news segments on behalf of a sheriff’s department in Mississippi, where his public relations and the political consulting firm is based.

Aside from the ethical considerations of this scenario, it’s disturbing that FRA official Heath Hall was working in another capacity when safety on the railroad should have been his top consideration.

Hall was in charge of Amtrak, a company involved in three serious crashes since December. The Government has yet to make a full-time appointment.

Earlier this month, an Amtrak train crashed into a CSX train in South Carolina, killing two crew members and injuring more than 100.

Federal investigators are investigating how CSX crews routed the Amtrak train into a parked freight train in Cayce, SC.

Although CSX may be to blame, Amtrak is likely to end up paying crash victims’ legal claims with public money, reported CNBC.

The report said Amtrak pays up for accidents it was not to blame for because of agreements between the passenger rail company, which takes more than $1 billion annually in federal subsidies, and the private railroads, the owners of 97 percent of the tracks on which Amtrak travels.

CNBC pointed to the secretive nature of these agreements. Amtrak officials point out the passenger train company generally bears the full cost of damages to its trains, employees, passengers, and other crash victims, even if a freight rail company was responsible for a wreck due to negligence or misconduct.

The furor concerning FRA official Health Hall comes at a time when CSX’s safety record has deteriorated, a metric provided by the Federal Railroad Administration reveals.

Since 2013, CSX’s rate of major accidents per million miles traveled rose by more than half, from 2 to 3.08 — significantly higher than the industry average. Rail passenger advocates said they were concerned after the CSX CEO at that time pushed hard last year to alter freight routes.

The FRA has much to do to improve safety for railroad workers and passengers alike. If you were injured on the railroad, please call me at (757) 455-0077.

John Cooper

 

 

Amtrak and CSX Crash in South Carolina Highlights Worker Dangers

Another horrific and deadly Amtrak accident highlights the dangers faced by workers and passengers on our railroads. On Feb. 4, two people were killed and about 70 were injured in an Amtrak and CSX crash in South Carolina.

The accident in Cayce derailed Amtrak 91, which was operating from New York to Miami. A report in The State noted the crash occurred near Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road around 2:35 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

The train had eight crew members and approximately 139 passengers on board. It was not immediately clear what caused the two trains to collide.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the site on Feb. 4 to help determine the cause of the crash, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt told CNN.

Crashes of this nature again highlight the dangers faced by railroad workers on a daily basis. When fast-moving passenger trains and slow freight trains are operating on the same lines or in close proximity, there is always potential for safety errors to occur.

Amtrak and CSX Crash in South Carolina
Scene of the Amtrak and CSX Crash in South Carolina (Lexington Sheriff’s Department)

Initial reports did not detail the breakdown in the injured between workers and Amtrak passengers. Engineers and conductors are often hurt in collisions on the railroad.

For the 70 or so classified as injured, the injuries ranged from small scratches to broken bones, stated Lexington County public information officer Harrison Cahill.

At least seven people were reported to be transported to local hospitals for various injuries. The severity of those injuries, including whether or not they were classified as life-threatening, was not immediately apparent.

Passengers who were not injured were shaken up and placed in a reception site set up by the American Red Cross at Pine Ridge Middle School.

Many questions are being asked in the wake of the Amtrak and CSX crash in South Carolina including the issue of the status of Positive Train Control (PTC).

PTC has been mandated by Congress but the railroads have stalled. In the devastating Amtrak crash in Washington State that killed three people in December, PTC emerged as a major issue.

Positive Train Control is meant to prevent crashes of this nature but it was not activated on the train in Washington State, even though it had the capability. Positive train control, or PTC, has the ability to automatically slow down and stop a train completely if it’s going too fast or could get into an accident. It’s also means to prevent collisions between trains. The Federal Railroad Administration hailed it as the “single-most important rail safety development in more than a century.”

The Amtrak train in Washington State was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said.

I’m alarmed that poor communication and a failure to implement safety systems is putting railroad workers in danger on a daily basis.

A lawsuit filed by the family of a worker killed by an Amtrak train at Chester in Pennsylvania in 2016, said the worker believed the track was protected at the time he was struck by the train. It cited poor communication and a failure to adhere to appropriate practices and procedures.

If you have lost a loved one in a railroad accident or been injured, I would like to hear from you. Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers files regular claims against Amtrak. Call us for a free consultation at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

Positive Train Control Questions Follow Washington State Amtrak Crash

America’s railroads are adopting new technology intended to prevent crashes. However, it was not used in Washington State where an Amtrak train crashed in December, killing three and injuring more than 100. Positive Train Control questions were asked in the wake of the latest serious rail crash.

As well as passengers who were killed and injured, all the crew members were hospitalized, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) set up interviews with them to get more details on the derailment of Amtrak Cascades 501 near DuPont, Washington.

The train was on its inaugural journey from Seattle to Portland, Oregon.

Positive Train Control is meant to prevent crashes of this nature but it was not activated on the train. Positive train control, or PTC, has the ability to automatically slow down and stop a train if it’s going too fast or could get into an accident. The Federal Railroad Administration hailed it as the “single-most important rail safety development in more than a century.”

PTC has been dogged by delays and cost overruns but America’s railroads are increasingly fitting it.

However, the Amtrak train in Washington State was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr said.

The NTSB report estimates total damage from the crash at $40.4 million.

Positive Train Control Questions Are Raised in Lawsuits

Lawsuits have already been filed after December’s crash. Two people who were on the train and another who was hurt in a vehicle on the highway below the derailed train all filed suits.

The NTSB said signs alerting crews to the speed reductions were placed two miles before the curve and at the start of the curve. The NTSB’s report could not comprehend why Amtrak 501 entered a curve at nearly three times the posted speed limit.

The full federal investigation into the latest Amtrak crash will take months. The preliminary NTSB report released confirmed the train was traveling nearly 50 miles an hour over the posted speed limit.

One of the lawsuits states Amtrak equipped the train with PTC. It questions why the train was equipped with the technology but Positive Train Control was not operable.

The train’s conductor has sued in Pierce County Superior Court. He alleges Amtrak failed to provide a safe work environment. A new deadline set by the Federal Railroad Administration requires the implementation of PTC by December 31, 2018.

The crash has raised questions about the adequacy of training for engineers and conductors on the route in Washington.

A report on CNN noted there are numerous unanswered questions after the Amtrak crash.

Positive Train Control Questions were never far from the thoughts of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. He said:

“There are a thousand unanswered questions about this right now. One of the questions is, could that speed control have made a difference? We don’t know that for sure at the moment either.”

If you have been injured on the railroads or lost a loved one, call our railroad accident attorneys at (757) 455-0077.

John Cooper

CSX Train Carrying Molten Sulfur Derailed in Florida

America’s railroads carry hazardous materials across the country. If you think these shipments are safe, think again. During the most recent accident residents were warned to stay indoors and close their windows after a CSX train carrying molten sulfur derailed.

A report on NPR noted four cars derailed near Lakeland in Florida. Officials were warned to remain in their homes.

The report stated several cars leaked. This is an extremely hazardous substance. Burning sulfur emits large quantities of sulfur dioxide, an irritating, toxic, and suffocating gas linked to severe lung damage and death.

CSX Spokesman Rob Doolittle said molten sulfur as “a hazardous material used in making rubber, detergent, and fertilizers.”

CSX reported nine rail cars were reported derailed in this crash. Polk County Fire Rescue reported on how several cars were left “rolled over and mangled.”

CSX train carrying molten sulfur derailed
A CSX train carrying molten sulfur derailed

The railroad operator reported no injuries. It is investigating the cause of the derailment.

A fire engine crew spotted the derailed cars discovered shortly before 2 a.m on Nov. 27. The engine was on the way back from a medical call. Hazmat crews were mobilized to the derailment scene. They were reported to be working with officials from CSX and state agencies to investigate.

NPR reported this derailment occurred close to a residential subdivision along Kathleen Road. The train track runs parallel to the highway. Part of the road was closed after the crash.

No residents were evacuated due to the derailment and sulfur leak, according to officials. They were told to shelter in their homes. Officials instructed them to turn off their air conditioning units.

CSX Train Carrying Molten Sulfur Derailed – The Hazards of Chemical Trains

As well as communities living close to railroad lines, workers face daily risks to their health from dangerous chemicals carried on the railroads.

Earlier this year, we noted a series of cancer lawsuits were filed by railroad workers who fell sick across the country and the families of those who lost loved ones.

We also noted how chlorine accidents pose a major danger to railroad workers after a series of spills across the United States.

Tank cars used by the railroads still rupture too easily, endangering communities, first responders and railroad workers alike.

If you fear your health has been affected by dangerous chemicals or other substances, you have likely grounds to make a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Call us today for a free consultation at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

Lawsuit Raises Concerns About Safety of Norfolk Southern’s Railroad Ties

Norfolk Southern’s railroad ties are falling apart faster than expected. That’s bad news for the Norfolk-based company, and railroad workers and passengers who face increased dangers.

The problem was noted recently by The Associated Press. The company revealed in a federal lawsuit that it faces replacing millions of defective railroad ties on its tracks because they are deteriorating faster than expected.

The issue is serious because degrading ties can impact the safety of the railroad as a whole. Railroad workers may be placed in elevated danger from the issue and Amtrak passenger services also use Norfolk Southern tracks.

The issue of Norfolk Southern’s railroad ties should be seen in the context of deteriorating tracks across the country which are causing more accidents.

 

Last year, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reported poor track conditions along the Orange and Silver lines led to the derailment of a Metro train.

These kinds of accidents are particularly alarming when hazards or inflammable materials are involved. A recent report noted of 31 crashes involving crude or ethanol on America’s railroads from 2013 to 2016, 17 were related to track problems.

In its lawsuit, Norfolk Southern blames Boatright Railroad Products Inc., an Alabama company that produces its railroad ties for failing to use the proper coating.

Norfolk Southern claims instead of using materials that preserved the wood like creosote, the company ordered employees to make the ties black by whatever method.

The lawsuit alleged Boatright used motor oil, paint, anti-freeze and other substances to make the wood black. Boatright is also accused of providing misleading samples to a consultant for the railroad who was checking up on the quality of the work.

The litigation alleges the Alabama firm’s employees were told to take the consultant hunting when he was meant to be checking the railroad ties it was treating at its plant.

Norfolk Southern’s railroad ties are considered integral to the safety of its operations, the Virginia-based company states in its lawsuit.

The complaint states untreated ties can “degrade and deteriorate prematurely, therefore, jeopardizing the safety and the integrity of Norfolk Southern’s rail network as a whole.”

These kinds of allegations, if substantiated, alarm me as a Norfolk-based railroad worker accident attorney. We expect the big railroads and their contractors who put safety first and not to cut corners. If you have been hurt on the railroads, please call us at (757) 455-0077.

John Cooper

 

Questions Over the Deaths of Two CSX Railroad Workers in Washington D.C.

Alarming questions linger over the deaths of two CSX railroad workers in Washington D.C. last month following reports they got off their train to inspect a problem.

According to the Washington Post, the men got off their freight train to identify what triggered an alarm. The men were inspecting an issue with the wheels, causing the train to stop, National Transportation Safety Board officials said.

The men were killed when they crossed onto an active track on which Amtrak was running its passenger trains, according to reports. It’s unclear why the workers were on the Amtrak line but the tragedy clearly raises communication issues.

The deaths of two CSX railroad workers are being investigated by the NTSA.

Questions over Deaths of Two CSX Railroad Workers
Deaths of Two CSX Railroad Workers Raise Questions

According to a USA Today news article, the deaths occurred just before midnight in Washington, D.C. near the intersection of Ninth Street and New York Avenue.

D.C. fire and EMS crews responded to the accident and pronounced the two CSX workers dead at the scene.  The two men, a conductor and a conductor trainee, were later identified as Stephen Deal, 20, of Meyersdale, Pa., and Jake LaFave, 25, of Cumberland, Md.

Authorities say that the passengers aboard the Amtrak train were forced to stay on board for several hours before being transferred to another train to transport them to their destination.  Officials also noted that the Amtrak service between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia was put on a temporary suspension during the investigation.

The Deaths of Two CSX Railroad Workers – The Unanswered Questions

The NTSB official is looking at what communication if any, there was between CSX and Amtrak before the crash.

In April 2016, two Amtrak workers were killed by a train that struck their backhoe. Investigations pointed to a mishandled handoff between foremen. The train’s operator also tested positive for marijuana after the wreck in Chester, Pa. A subsequent wrongful death lawsuit cited poor communications.

We are saddened by the tragic loss of life that occurred as a result of this accident.  Our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. It is likely that another breakdown in communication occurred in Washington D.C., although we will not be sure until we get more details.

The presence of more than one rail operator on adjacent lines is a potential recipe for disaster and more workers have paid with their lives.

Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers routinely represents injured workers, as well as the families of deceased railway employees.

While these places are dangerous work environments, the employees still have rights to remain safe under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).  FELA enables railroad workers to gain compensation for injuries sustained while at work who were at least partially the fault of the railroad.

If you or someone you know has been injured on the railway or at the workplace, please make sure to contact an experienced and trusted FELA attorney.  Call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 757-455-0077.

John Cooper

Jury Awards $991,000 Over Railroad Worker’s On-The Job Back Injury

Back injuries are among the most serious conditions railroad workers can face. In a recent case in New York, the Long Island Railroad was hit with a $991,000 verdict after a signal worker claimed a physical therapy program exacerbated his on-the-job back injury.

A report on Law 360 stated the jury in Manhattan hit the railroad with the verdict after finding it was negligent in putting signal worker Daniel Curran into a physical therapy program.

It was described as a “work hardening” program and was said to have made his on-the-job back injury worse.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos denied the railroad’s motion for summary judgment against Curran last year.

However, the jury declined to find the Long Island Railroad negligent over a problem with rail buckling that it experienced in 2012. Curran claimed the on-the-job back injury occurred during an emergency repair of the lines.

The jury decided the railroad should not have pushed the signal worker to take part in physical therapy that was beyond his limits.

This “work hardening” therapy delayed Curran’s recovery, his attorney Marc Wietzke of Flynn & Wietzke PC, told the jury.

He said there was no timeline for recovery and it made little sense to push the railroad workers so hard given his existing on-the-job back injury.
Lawyers for the railroad indicated they will appeal the verdict. They challenged the accusations of negligence.

Curran was paid about $360,000 during the time he has not been working. The railroad is able to offset any damages he ultimately recovers by that amount.

Back injuries are common among railroad workers and they can be career ending. Recently. We noted how poor seating on trains is causing back injuries among workers,

More than a decade ago, a report by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers said executives of railroad companies make decisions focused on the “bottom line” while the crews who sit on chairs have little say.

There was little incentive for the railroads to tackle the high level of vibration workers face on poor seating.

Studies have repeatedly pointed to the ongoing pain suffered by railroad employees forced to sit on these poorly designed seats.

If you have suffered an on-the-job back injury working on the railroad, our FELA injury lawyers want to hear from you. Please call us at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

 

Jury Awards $7.5 Million to Railroad Worker Who Developed Leukemia from Creosote Exposure

Railroad workers are exposed to many harmful chemicals in their work on the tracks. A jury recently awarded $7.5 million to a man from Edwardsville in Illinois who developed leukemia after handling creosote soaked railroad ties for Chicago & North Western Railway.

James Brown worked on the railroad for more than three decades. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and claimed the diagnosis was caused by the failure of his employer to provide protective equipment.

Brown’s attorney, David Damick filed a suit six years ago against Union Pacific Railroad, for whom Brown worked for 13 years. He alleged most of the exposure and alleged negligence occurred during the 18 years that Brown worked for Union Pacific’s predecessor, Chicago & North Western Railway, stated a report in the Intelligencer.

Damick said his client was repeatedly exposure to harmful creosote over a period of 18 years.

He argued the railroad knew about the dangers of creosote decades ago but failed to act. In 1986, the railroad received a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the dangers of creosote and benzene exposure.

CNW knew about the dangers of creosote and benzene exposure as early as 1986 when they received a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It instructed the railroad to comply with certain safety measures.

Creosote exposure proved harmful to railroad worker
Railroad worker was exposed to creosote

The jury heard the railroad failed to comply with the notice. It did not provide employees with gloves, respirators, goggles, or other protective equipment.

Brown started his work as laborer for CNW in 1976. He frequently loaded and unloaded creosote-soaked railroad ties.

The Dangers of Creosote

Brown often returned home after work covered from head to toe in wet creosote, he testified.

He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS in 2008. The disease subsequently developed into acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.

During the trial, several medical experts testified that even the smallest exposure to creosote, benzene and carbolineum can cause AML.

The defense claimed that the railroad worker’s exposure to those toxins was in insufficient amounts to cause AML.

The railroads fight cases like this hard. Mr. Brown’s was no exception. Attorneys for Union Pacific questioned the science linking creosote exposure to cancer. They tried to exonerate the giant railroad company on the grounds Brown was employed by CNW when the exposure occurred.

However, the jury in Madison County came close to awarding Brown the $8 million he was requesting when it agreed to a $7.5 million verdict.

Many railroad workers are exposed to harmful chemicals and substances in their line of work. If you are harmed on the railroad or injured, please call me at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

 

 

Norfolk Southern Derailment Leads to Suffolk Coal Spill

A Norfolk Southern derailment in Suffolk over the weekend highlights the dangers railroad workers face on a daily basis.

The 42-car train derailment occurred on Saturday morning. It led to prolonged road closures. Reports stated nobody was hurt.

The Daily Press reported the Norfolk Southern coal train was traveling east on Saturday morning when 42 coal cars derailed. The derailment caused damage to a warehouse and the windows of a nearby home and vehicle.

The report stated Wellons Street and Saratoga Street at Hall Avenue in Suffolk remain closed on Monday. Crews worked to clear more than 40 cars, the City of Suffolk stated in a news release.

Officials have not made an official statement on the cause of the derailment.

Norfolk Southern derailments

There were dramatic scenes in downtown Suffolk after the Norfolk-Southern derailment. However, the incident could have been so much worse.

Tommy Vaughan, who lives close to the scene of the derailment, said it sounded like a tornado was approaching. He told the Daily Press.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this – I’m glad it didn’t come through the house.”

The Norfolk Southern derailment resulted in a major clean-up operation in downtown Suffolk.

Norfolk Southern Derailment in Pennsylvania

Derailments involving Norfolk Southern trains and other operators are not as rare as we may think.

In December, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Marysville, PA.

Norfolk Southern suggested the wind may have played a part in the early morning incident.

A westbound train was coming from Harrisburg when four rear cars derailed as it crossed the Rockvale Bridge.

The derailed train cars knocked over a handrail while loose stones from the tracks spilled onto a roadway underneath the Marysville ‘subway’ tunnel. However, the cars did not fall off the bridge. Nobody was injured in this derailment.

Derailments pose dangers to local residents as well as railroad workers. This is particularly the case when trains carrying hazardous substances derail.

In March 2016, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Erie in New York. Dozens of homes in the area were evacuated due to an ethanol spill from the crash.

More than a decade ago, a Norfolk Southern derailment in Graniteville, SC, killed nine people and left many more seriously ill.

It serves as a sobering reminder of the dangerous materials many trains are carrying and the inherent risks to railroad workers and those living in nearby communities. The big railroads like Norfolk Southern and CSX are seeing an alarming number of derailments including in Virginia cities like Suffolk and Lynchburg. These communities have been lucky in that the derailments apparently caused no injuries or deaths. However, the incidents highlight the vulnerability of workers and those living near the tracks.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, please call me for a free consultation at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

Railroad Cancer Lawsuits Lead to Multi-Million Dollar Pay Outs

Railroad workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals in their work for decades. In recent months, a series of railroad cancer lawsuits has been filed across America.

The latest to hit the headlines was brought by a widow from South Carolina. She is suing CSX Transportation Inc., claiming negligence on behalf of the railroad. The lawsuit says  CSX took insufficient safety measures to prevent her late husband’s death.

Rutha Frieson, a special administrator of the estate of Marvin Frieson, filed a complaint at the end of 2016 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois, reported the Madison St. Clair Record. The lawsuit claims CSX failed to provide a safe place to work for Frieson, a railroad worker who died after developing stomach cancer that metastasized to colon cancer.

The lawsuit claims Frieson was exposed to asbestos-containing materials during his work with CSX. It claims the exposure caused him to develop stomach cancer, ultimately leading to his death in November 2014.

CSX case is latest in series of railroad cancer lawsuits
CSX is sued in railroad cancer lawsuit

Frieson’s widow claims CSX failed to provide a safe working environment for her husband when he was a railroad worker.

She claims she suffered serious losses as a result of her husband’s death. The plaintiff claims CSX Transportation Inc. failed to provide adequate and safe equipment to protect Frieson from inhaling dangerous asbestos fibers. She claims CSX failed to provide warnings and instructions on how to use materials that contained asbestos fibers.

Railroad Cancer Lawsuits Resulted in Major Verdicts

Last June, a railroad cancer lawsuit was filed by Clarence Mayberry. He claims he was exposed to solar radiation and creosote from 1968-2009. He said a lack of protective equipment from Union Pacific caused him to develop basal cell carcinomas on his head and neck.

Last September, a jury in Madison County awarded $7.5 million to James Brown. The railroad worker was diagnosed with cancer after years of exposure to toxic chemicals, creosote, lead and degreasing solvents on the railroad.

Brown was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia in 2008. In December 2010, he filed a lawsuit under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) blaming Union Pacific and Chicago & North Western Railway (CNW), for failing to give him protective equipment.

In 2014, two cases of hazardous exposure to chemicals in New Jersey were settled for $2.05 million.

As a FELA injury lawyer with decades of experience in representing injured railroad workers, I have seen the terrible impacts dangerous chemicals and substances can have on workers.

In many cases, workers were given inadequate protection from deadly substances. Diesel, coal dust, creosote, and asbestos on the railroads can cause cancer and other incurable diseases.

If you believe you have grounds to file a railroad cancer lawsuit, call us today at (866) 455-6657.