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

Lawsuit is Filed Over Death of Amtrak Worker in Chester Crash

There has been plenty of speculation about an apparent breakdown in communication that led to the death of two railroad workers in an Amtrak derailment near Chester in Pennsylvania on April 3. Now a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Amtrak in Delaware by the family of one of the workers who lost his life.

Wrongful death lawsuit is filed over Amtrak crash

The claim which has been brought by the family of Joe Neal Carter Kr., was reported in Delawareonline..

The suit was filed by Philadelphia attorneys Tom Kline and Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who represent the family of Joe Neal Carter Jr.

Carter was a veteran of the railroad and a longtime Amtrak employee. He was killed just north of the Delaware line while operating a backhoe.

The claim said Carter believed the track was protected at the time he was hit by the train. It cites poor communication and a failure to adhere to appropriate practices and procedures.

The worker was operating the backhoe when he was struck by the southbound Amtrak train at 106 mph. He lost his life along with fellow worker Peter Adamovich.

The lawsuit questions Amtrak’s safety precautions. It says the railroad failed to adhere to its own safety rules and did not comply with safe industry standards.

The family is suing Amtrak under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) in a claim that includes medical and funeral expenses as well money to support Carter’s two children.

The Federal Railroad Administration conducted a wide-ranging investigation in the light of the crash that has examined relevant safety precautions for workers. Recently, I outlined how the FRA has announced a raft of safety measures to protect workers from trains.

The investigation into Chester accident has looked at whether the work crew received the correct safety briefing before beginning its shift, a requirement of federal safety rules. Some insiders have alluded to a failure to implement basic safety procedures before the wreck.

Reports suggested a shunt strap was not in use at the time of the accident, in violation of Amtrak’s rules. A full report is not expected until the end of this year.

If you have lost a loved one in a railroad accident or if you have been injured while working on the railroads, I would like to hear from you. Call us for a free consultation at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

 

 

FRA Outlines New Safety Measures After Workers Are Killed in Amtrak Crash

New safety measures were ordered last month by FRA federal railroad officials as well as expanded drug testing for work crews, in the wake of a series of accidents including one that killed two track workers nearly eight weeks ago.

The measures were imposed by the Federal Railroad Administration They included additional protective measures for work crews who are operating on or near active railroad tracks. There will be safeguards on the use of equipment on or near the tracks that can serve as a second line of defense to prevent collisions between workers and trains.

FRA brings in new rules after Amtrak crash

FRA Increases Alcohol and Drug Testing

The FRA has widened a drug- and alcohol-testing program that was already in place for engineers and dispatchers—to include track maintenance workers. Two workers lost their lives on April 3 in Chester, Pennsylvania when a train killed a worker and a supervisor when it hit a backhoe that was on the tracks.

The new rules incorporate some updates that were outlined by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Amtrak has been involved in a spate of high-profile accidents in recent years that have led to a loss of life, raising questions about railroad safety.

The investigation in the wake of the Chester accident has looked at whether the work crew received a proper safety briefing before beginning its shift, a requirement of federal safety rules. It has raised questions about the level of communication between the work supervisor and a rail dispatcher shortly before the train was cleared to proceed through the work zone. Recently, I noted how safety systems may have been disabled before the fatal Amtrak crash in Chester.

Some people close to the investigation have alluded to a failure to implement basic safety procedures, leading to a loss of life.

They said a shunt strap was not in use at the time of the accident. Amtrak’s rules require the use of shunt straps in numerous situations, a railroad spokeswoman told the media after the Chester accident. The railroad has yet to comment on whether the work crew in that incident had used a shunt strap.

Something clearly went badly wrong in Pennsylvania. As an experienced FELA accident injury lawyer, I am very concerned about these apparent safety lapses that appear to go to the heart of Amtrak’s systems. I welcome the improvements but believe more information needs to be disclosed about exactly what went wrong. If you have lost a loved one or if you have been injured while working on the railroad, you may have grounds to sue a railroad operator. Please contact us on the chat box on this site or call the number above.

John Cooper

 

Were Backup Safety Systems Disabled Before Fatal Chester Amtrak Crash?

By John Cooper, FELA Accident Lawyer

Concerns about the lack of backup safety precautions have been raised by Sunday’s fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia that claimed the lives of two railroad workers. A report in Philly.com stated federal regulators have advised the railroads to implement a system of safety precautions on numerous occasions.

The importance of backup systems followed a number of accidents that were similar to the one in Chester that killed two railroad workers who were operating a backhoe.

Backup systems may have failed before Amtrak crash

The article cited sources with an inside knowledge who suggested a lapse in communications during a shift change led the two workers to be on the tracks at a time when the backup safety precautions were cancelled.

An advisory in 2014 by the Federal Railroad Administration safety advisory, said the lack of backup warning has been an ongoing problem on the railroads. It raises a lot of alarming questions about Amtrak procedures and whether the railroad may have been responsible for these deaths as well as injuries to upwards of 30 people on the train.

“FRA is concerned about the infrequent, but repetitive incidents involving roadway workers being struck or nearly struck by trains that appear to be due to miscommunication.”

Backups were seen as a stopgap before the automatic breaking system, called Positive Train Control (PTC), was brought in. Although PTC has been brought in on much of the Amtrak network, this crash suggests there is still a need for backup precautions.

Amtrak Train Hit Backhoe at More than 100 MPH

Amtrak Train 89 en route from New York for Savannah, Ga., on Sunday, was reported to be hitting speeds of 106 mph when it hit a backhoe, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigative team.

The workers who lost their lives were later named as Joseph Carter Jr., a 61-year-old of Wilmington, and Peter John Adamovich, 59, of Chester County.

The Philly.com article cited a FRA advisory in 2014 that cited three examples between 2007 and 2013 of communication problems that led to the deaths of workers. Almost 100 workers were killed in the five years from 2010 to 2015.
Amtrak have given few clues about why the backhoe was on the line. My thoughts as a railroad worker/FELA injury lawyer are with the families of the workers who lost their lives, as well as the passengers who were injured. If you or a loved one has been in a railroad accident, they should consider calling me at (866) 455-6657.

 

Questions Linger After Two Amtrak Railroad Workers Die in Philadelphia Derailment

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, FELA Injury Lawyer

When passenger trains derail, injuries to the commuters often make headlines. However, crew members and railroad workers often also become victims as demonstrated near Philadelphia this weekend.

Early on Sunday, another Amtrak train derailed after it hit construction equipment on the tracks close to Philadelphia. Two railroad workers lost their lives in this crash. There are still many unanswered questions.

The accident occurred early on Sunday morning at Chester near Philadelphia. As well as killing two workers, the crash injured more than 30 passengers.

An Amtrak Train Derailed near Philadelphia

The New York Times reported that a team from the National Transportation Safety Board visited the accident scene later in the day. The most pressing question was why a backhoe was on the line as the train approached.

Accounts from passengers suggested the train was traveling at a high rate of speed with no sign of problems when there was a jarring crash followed by a “shuddering deceleration.” The New York Times reported the crash crumpled up the engine and smashed the windshield. Riders in the front two cars appear to have been most seriously injured as they were thrown to the ground. Some passengers compared the sideward movement of the train to being like a roller coaster.

FELA Claims After Amtrak Crashes

The train crash scene was close to that of an Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia almost a year ago that killed eight and injured around 200. It was one of the worst train crashes in recent years. Claims were made by railroad workers as well as passengers after this horrific crash.

In the past, I have written about claims under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) in the wake of the Amtrak crash of 2015.

The first documented lawsuit was filed by an Amtrak employee, according to NBC Philadelphia. Bruce Phillips was an Amtrak dispatcher who was traveling in the last of the train’s seven cars when it derailed. The dispatcher filed a lawsuit as an employee under FELA which allows railroaders who are injured on the job to seek compensation. If you have lost a loved one who was working on the railroad, you may have grounds to make a claim under the FELA legislation.

I have been working with injured railroad workers and the families of those who have lost their lives for 25 years. Call me at (866) 455-6657 for a free consultation.

Amtrak Crash in Kansas Injures 32 People

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

The sight of Amtrak cars lying on their side after a derailment has become an increasingly common one in recent years. I was alarmed to read about how it happened again in Kansas in a crash that injured 32 people.

This crash on Monday morning raises many questions. Latest news reports suggest officials believe an unreported vehicle crash may have damaged the tracks before an Amtrak train derailed in Kansas.

We have seen a number of serious passenger train accidents over the last two years. In May 2015, an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring many more. The train was speeding into a curve.

The Amtrak crash in Kansas

In Kansas, an engineer noticed a significant bend in a rail ahead and put on the emergency brakes shortly before the passenger train derailed, the Associated Press reported. The Amtrak train appeared to have been traveling at about 75 miles when the engineer pulled the emergency break.

Information that a vehicle accident may have occurred before the wreck that damage the tracks came from the Gray County sheriff’s department. The authorities looked at tire tracks leading to the train tracks and preserved the scene with crime scene tape.

Amtrak said 32 people who were involved in the derailment were taken to local hospitals for treatment. All but three had been released by late morning.

FELA Claims After Passenger Train Crashes

Earlier this month nine people were injured when a train with 214 passengers on board derailed in California. Officials said a mudslide was the likely cause of a tree being on the line that caused the derailment on the Altamont Corridor Express train, Union Pacific said.

As a passenger on a train, you have a right to a safe ride on any train. This right includes holding the railroad company accountable if you get hurt en route. Numerous lawsuits were filed after the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia by both passengers and their families and crew members.

The first lawsuit was filed by an employee of the railroad service, according to NBC Philadelphia. Bruce Phillips was working as an Amtrak dispatcher and was traveling in the last of the train’s seven cars when it left the tracks. The dispatcher filed a lawsuit as an employee under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which allows railroaders injured on the job to seek compensation.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a train crash, call us at (866) 455-6657 for a free consultation.

 

Crew Members Are Hurt in Amtrak Derailment in Vermont

By John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

When trains derail the injuries to passengers often make headlines. However, crew members are often hurt too.

It did not escape my notice that when an Amtrak train derailed in Vermont this week, the most seriously injured person on board was a conductor who, according to reports, was detained in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to be treated for serious injuries to the abdomen. He also suffered bruises, a concussion and scrapes. I was relieved to read how all of the injured had been released from a local hospital by Wednesday.

Of the seven people who were injured in the Vermont derailment, three were crew members and four were passengers.

If you are a railroad worker who is injured on the job you may have rights to sue the rail company under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Unlike workers compensation, a railroad must bear some blame for an injury for a claim to be successful under FELA.

A number of railroad workers sued Amtrak over a catastrophic crash in May when a train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said previously that the train accelerated up to 106 miles per hour in the last minute before entering a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph. The brakes were applied but the train was still traveling at 100 mph when it crashed.

The Vermont derailment was caused by a rock slide. Although the liability issues are less clear cut here, there is a question about whether the railroad should have had netting to protect trains from this scenario.

Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told reporters on Tuesday in Montpelier, the Vermont capital, that Amtrak has deployed heavy-duty netting to block rock slides from tumbling onto railroad tracks, but not in Vermont.

The devices in question are called slide fences, and they’re similar to nets commonly seen at the side of mountain highways. The railroad versions are more sophisticated in that they have sensors that relay alerts to approaching trains. Boardman said their use is restricted to New York and he wasn’t sure if they would work in Vermont.

The Amtrak service is likely to be restored to the state by this weekend — after investigators finish examining the crash site and the tracks are repaired.

The National Transportation Safety Board will examine the official cause of the accident, but Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has stated human error was not to blame for the train’s jumping tracks in the town of Northfield, about 10 miles south of Montpelier.

While Boardman joined Shumlin at the news conference on Tuesday he did not comment on the cause of the crash although he expressed relief that the injuries were not more extensive.

The southbound train, called “The Vermonter,” derailed on Monday morning after hitting fallen rocks. The collision sent the engine and the first passenger car tumbling into a brook.

When railroad workers are injured on passenger or freight trains, they may have grounds to make a claim against the railroad for their injuries. Call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 866.455.6657.

Workers and Passengers Injured in Amtrak Crash in Philadelphia are Left in Limbo

John-cooperBy John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

There was a lot of publicity at the time when Amtrak Train 188 derailed in May, killing eight and injuring more than 200 people in Philadelphia.

Now the dust has settled the woeful shortcomings of Amtrak are out of the headlines. But the victims of the crash are still fighting every day for recognition and compensation.

Recently the Philadelphia Inquirer reported how the issue of compensation for injured workers and passengers will be in limbo for weeks and maybe even months with Congress on its summer break. It remains to be seen if a cap on damages in crashes like this will be lifted.

The issue at stake is a 1997 law that caps the liability in rail accidents at $200 million, an amount that experts say likely will not be enough to cover the damages for the eight people killed and more than 200 injured in the Philadelphia accident.

The Senate moved to address the concern at the end of the last session, voting to raise the limit to $295 million and making the change retroactive to the May crash. But it was not the end of the matter. The House left for the summer, and the Senate began its recess soon after, leaving the proposal’s fate to be decided in the fall, when it is expected to become “part of high-stakes negotiations over a sweeping transportation plan,” the Inquirer reported.

The proposal comes as the horrors of the crash back in May are brought to life in numerous lawsuits. Bob Hewett ended up with fractures to more than 20 ribs, his hip, and his spine, as well as a collapsed lung. Leonard Knobbs suffered a fractured back and knee, broken ribs, and bruised lungs.

The Inquirer noted how Eli Kulp was paralyzed below his chest. Robert Gildersleeve was killed, leaving behind a wife and two teenage children.

They are some of those who are suing Amtrak after the train derailed at 102 mph on a curve posted for 50 mph. A considerable number of the injured were Amtrak workers.

Recently RT.com reported that Bruce A. Phillips, an Amtrak dispatcher, who was hitching a ride on the train, is suing Amtrak. He was “deadheading”  on the trip from Philadelphia to New York City on May 12, meaning his ride was free of charge as an off-duty employee. In his claim Phillips says he was “violently hurled about the railcar, striking his body on numerous parts of the railcar interior, before slamming onto the floor, as a result of which he sustained permanent personal injuries.”

Phillips was one of the passengers with serious injuries who were hospitalized at Temple University Hospital in the days after the crash. RT.com reported he sustained some very serious injuries including traumatic brain injury in the crash, multiple cuts and bruises on his body, neurological injuries, multiple orthopedic and emotional trauma.

It’s disheartening to see how Congress has left these badly injured workers and passengers in a state of limbo over compensation from a crash in which Amtrak was clearly to blame for.

Our railroad worker injury attorneys represent railroad employees who are injured in accidents across the country. Call us for a free consultation at 866-455-6657.