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

 

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.

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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

Norfolk Southern Train Derails in Botetourt County

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

Norfolk Southern is investigating an accident in Botetourt County, Virginia this week in which a train hit the back of another, causing cars to derail.

The Roanoke Times reported the accident occurred on Wednesday morning just before 1 a.m. when a northbound train struck the rear of a stopped train near Roanoke, Virginia.

News reports stated five cars on the stationary train derailed and three of them turned over onto their sides. Four of the cars were reported to be empty, and the other contained wood pulp.

No injuries to workers were reported and no hazardous materials were spilled in the crash.

Deputy Chief David Firestone of Botetourt County Fire and EMS said there was no evidence of private property damage after the derailment near the Nace Road, east of its intersection with Webb Lane, just 100 yards from several homes.

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This accident illustrates how easily things can go wrong on the railroad. Derailments are all too common. If this train had been carrying hazardous materials or crude oil, the incident could have been more serious.

Derailments that Caused Explosions

In 2014, the derailment of a CSX train in Lynchburg near Roanoke sent three burning tanker cars into the James River and prompted evacuations of parts of Lynchburg. The accident could have been so much worse.

The Roanoke Times reported on how about 50,000 gallons of crude oil remained unaccounted for late after the CSX train derailed in downtown Lynchburg and sent burning tanker cars into the river, raising pollution fears.

Perceived problems with tanker cars have been linked to a spate of railroad explosions across North America. The worst freight train accident in recent years occurred in 2013 in Lac-Megantic in Quebec in Canada when a train derailment killed 47 people in July 2013

Fuel tanker cars ruptured, causing a series of explosions. A recent survey found  anxiety problems were twice as frequent in Lac-Megantic as they were in the rest of the surrounding region in which it is located, two years after the tragedy. Psychological distress affected about one in three people in Lac-Megantic, compared with one out of five elsewhere.

Derailments can be caused by a range of factors including crossing accidents, line failures and human error. If you have been injured while working on the railroad, call me today at (866) 455-6657.

 

 

 

Railroads Delay Positive Train Control Safety Measures Again

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, FELA Accident Lawyer

I have written before about Positive Train Control, a system that may have prevented the terrible Amtrak crash in Philadelphia last year and would save many railroad workers from injuries.

PTC can automatically slow or stop trains to avoid collisions and derailments and protect areas of track where crews are working. The only problem with the system is the fact America’s big railroads are dragging their heels when it comes to implementing it.

PTC is intended to prevent serious crashes like this Amtrak wreck
PTC is intended to prevent serious crashes like this Amtrak wreck

Three of the biggest railroads in North America – Canadian National Railway, CSX and Norfolk Southern say they won’t meet a 2018 deadline for the installation of this key piece of railroad safety technology, reported Progressive Railroading.

A list provided from the Federal Railroad Administration reveals these three railroads say they won’t be ready to install PTC until 2020. A number of smaller commuter railroads in Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts and Texas also said they will miss the deadline.

Amtrak is already operating a version of the technology on its tracks but it’s far from comprehensive because most of Amtrak’s operations outside the Northeast are on track owned by freight railroads. Three freight railroads said they would be able to meet the 2018 deadline.

The 2018 date itself represents a postponement of the new safety measures. At the end of last year, Congress extended an original deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, to the end of 2018, as railroads threatened to shut down operations. The new legislation contains provisions, under certain circumstances, that railroads would have until 2020 to implement the safety technology.

However, after Congress approved the later date, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told railroads they should not assume they have until 2020 to install and begin using PTC on their networks. As long as years ago I was warning the big railroads were backsliding on PTC.

It has taken many tragedies to force the hand of legislators. Congress opted for positive train control in the wake of one of the nation’s worst train accidents in 2008, when a Metrolink commuter train hit a freight train head-on near Los Angeles in California, leaving 25 people dead and injuring more than 100.

We frequently see accidents in rail yards that injure or kill workers that could be avoided if PTC was in place. If you have been injured on the railroad, call me at (866) 455-6657.

Norfolk Southern Worker Whose Heel Was Ripped off in Yard Accident Receives $22.4 Million

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

When things go wrong on the railroad workers can often suffer very serious injuries that can affect or destroy their quality of life.

At the end of last year a jury in Illinois handed down a $22.47 million verdict in the case of a Norfolk Southern employee whose heel was torn off when two railroad cars collided on what was meant to be parallel tracks. The jury found changes to the yard that made it more unsafe had contributed to the accident.

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All cases are different and we cannot guarantee the results of a case. It was one of the largest verdicts on the railroad last year in a FELA case. John M. Power and George T. Brugess, the plaintiff’s attorneys, said in a press release issued after the verdict that it “sends a clear message that railroads must be as concerned about safety as they are profits.”

The accident occurred on September 2, 2011 when a conductor was working in a rail yard in Illinois where he was reorganizing railroad cars on several tracks.  It left the conductor with serious injuries. He suffered a traumatic amputation of his left heel at the scene. On arrival at the hospital, doctors found that the back half of his foot had no skin covering it and he had suffered from severed nerves, torn ligaments and tendons. He required a 15 square-inch skin graft to be cut out from his thigh to cover an area of his heel. The injury led to many complications. The worker was not able to bear weight on his foot for more than two years after the accident. Later, the graft ripped open, causing repeated infections that continue to plague his life. Ongoing problems dogged the worker after his accident.

The complaint filed against Norfolk Southern claimed that less than two months before the accident, the railroad replaced switches and track in the yard, creating a safety hazard for workers. The railroad had turned previously parallel tracks into a dangerous trap for workers because they were too closely aligned.

Lawyers for the defense argued the plaintiff parked cars in an area that was a, “no parking zone,” and was responsible for the hazardous condition that caused the injury. However, dash-cam footage from the train showing that other engineers in the yard had also left cars on parallel tracks, contradicting the railroad’s claim that the conductor was acting differently. The jury agreed that the railroad was responsible for creating the dangerous conditions in the yard and failing to properly inform employees of the hazards.

The jury returned a verdict of $22,470,102 in favor of the plaintiff and against Norfolk Southern Railway Company. The verdict allocated this severely injured worker $474,102 for future medical expenses; $1.5 million in lost benefits and earnings; $1.5 million for his disfigurement; and $19 million for pain and suffering.

This case again illustrated some of the dangers that workers face in railroad yards. Often a railroad is responsible for hazardous conditions in roads that kill and injure workers. Last year a worker was killed in CSX’s Acca yard in Richmond, Virginia.

If you have been hurt on the railroad or lost a loved one, call our railroad worker injury lawyers at 866-455-6657 for a free consultation.

Proposed Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern Merger Offers Few Benefits for Railroad Workers

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, Railroad Injury Lawyer

Canadian Pacific Railway is proposing a merger with Norfolk Southern in a move that would create a giant railroad but appears to offer few benefits to workers.

The Wall Street Journal reported on how the Alberta-based company said its proposal entailed a sizeable premium in stock and cash, but few specifics were available. Norfolk Southern’s reaction to the proposal has been chilly to date.

The deal is at a speculative stage. Norfolk Southern, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, said it had received an “unsolicited, low premium and highly conditional indication of interest,” from Canadian Pacific. Norfolk Southern will consider the proposal but has noted that any consolidation among the freight railroads would face sizeable regulatory hurdles.

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If the two railroads merged, it would create an industry giant with an estimated value of $47 billion not to mention a rail network that would stretch from the west coast of Canada to the Gulf. CP say earnings would grow more quickly.

However, it’s difficult to see what benefits the railroad worker would get from such a giant entity. Indeed I have to wonder if it would lead to the shedding of jobs. Norfolk Southern was recently taken to task by industry analysts for increasing its employees at a time when volumes dropped while its performance continues to lag behind that of competitors.

Over the last few years we have seen many railroads shed crew members, raising concerns about the safety of trains when they derail. Recently, I highlighted how the problem of insufficient help can lead to accidents and injuries on the railroad.

Lawyers filing Federal Employer Liability Act (FELA) claims often find there was a lack of help provided to the worker, and this deficiency has made the job of the worker less safe.  Allegations of negligence by the railroads, leading to injuries to conductors, engineers, car men and maintenance way workers can be about the equipment provided or the method of doing the work.  Cutting the size of crews on the railroad can leave those who left are on trains isolated and in greater danger in the case of accident such as derailments.

If you have been hurt while working on the railroad, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit under the FELA legislation. Call us today at 866-455-6657.

 

 

 

Insufficient Help : A Common Claim in FELA Cases

By John Cooper, Railroad Worker Injury Attorney

Often the cause of injuries on the railroad to workers results from crew size reductions that have happened over time on the major railroads like CSX and Norfolk Southern.  The giant freight railroads of the east reduce their labor costs whenever they can. Sometimes they replace men with machines and other times just get rid of people without providing additional help of any sort in the important tasks for railroad workers in all departments including transportation, mechanical and engineering.

Often an allegation that we make as lawyers filing Federal Employer Liability Act (FELA) claims is that there was a lack of help provided to the worker, and this made their job unsafe.  Allegations of negligence by the railroads, causing injuries to engineers, conductors, car men and maintenance way workers can be about the equipment provided or the method of doing the work.  If the method of doing the job is unsafe and a worker gets injured, then the railroad can be held responsible for that railroad worker’s injury.

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For example, any task that involves lifting heavy objects from 50 pounds to 150 pounds might be more safely done by two men or with the assistance of a crane or hydraulic lift.  These kinds of lifting tasks occur throughout the railroad, and yet often one person is forced to lift some extremely heavy object in such a way that they end up hurting their back or having the heavy object fall on them and crush their foot or similar body part.  Usually what you find is that the railroad either over time stopped providing two guys to do the job, or they have set up the worker on a task either in a late-night shift or somewhere out on the road where there are not enough people around to make the job safe.

If you have been hurt on the job, it’s always important to report your injury.  On the injury reports one of the places that they demand information from the railroad worker about the railroad’s fault will say something like were you provided with a reasonably safe place.  One easy way to answer this question is always “insufficient help.”

It’s almost always true that if there were more staff for the job, a particular injury could have been avoided.  Over time, the train crews that operates freight up and down the tracks have gone from five-member crews down to two and sometimes even one-person crews.  They got rid of the firefighters, assistant conductors, and other workers over time.  Now there are trains being regularly operated in railroad yards across America and it’s only one employee with a remote control box so that there’s not even anybody actually physically on the locomotive.  This is a recipe for a disaster, and it’s just one example of inadequate staffing or insufficient help that can lead to wrecks and even deaths during railroad work.

If you have been hurt on the railroad due to poor staffing levels, or any other factor, call Coper Hurley Injury Lawyers at (866) 455-6657.

Response of CSX to Lynchburg Train Crash was Questioned by Fire Official

By John Cooper, Railroad Accident Injury Lawyer

The response of CSX to a major train derailment that caused a fire in Virginia has been criticized by a fire official.

An ABC News report stated the fire official who led the response to the 2014 oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia, said it took a full two hours for the company’s representative to arrive at a command post after the wreck.

Fire battalion chief Robert E. Lipscomb said it had been important to get answers about the train from the company, as soon as possible.

“I felt, from an incident commander’s perspective, that that two hours was a little bit long,” he told the National Transportation Safety Board 24 hours after the April 30, 2014 accident. The derailment is still being investigated and Lipscomb’s comments were part of documents released this month.

The Lynchburg derailment and explosion was a serious episode. Miraculously nobody was injured. The accident saw 17 cars derailing near a restaurant and walking path near the James River. Three of the cars went into the river, one caught fire and nearly 30,000 gallons of oil ended up in the river. The derailment caused parts of downtown Lynchburg to be evacuated for a short period.

“What we were looking for at that point in time, as much as anything, was information from the engineer or a conductor,” Lipscomb said in the report. “We really wanted to know what was on that train.”

Given that trains can carry dangerous and explosive substances, it’s vital that first responders are given accurate information about what is on a train, as soon as possible after an accident. This does not appear to have happened in Lynchburg.

ABC quoted NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway who said the agency does not set response times for reporting to an accident site.

“However, NTSB will review the emergency response as it does in the majority of accident investigations and evaluate whether there were any significant issues that pertain to this accident,” Holloway said in an email.

CSX did not provide a response to the report. ABC reported that a Norfolk Southern representative was at the scene within 45 minutes and determined the derailed train was not a Norfolk Southern train. At the outset the authorities requested assistance from Norfolk Southern and CSX because both companies have rail lines running along the river in Lynchburg.

Lipscomb said CSX initially told authorities that someone was headed to the scene but didn’t provide many answers he needed such as where the locomotive was, whether the accident involved a tractor trailer and if there were any other factors.

The train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota. An oil boom in that state has increased the amount of Bakken crude that’s traveling through West Virginia and Virginia to an oil depot in Yorktown.

Given that a dozen oil trains derailments have occurred over the past two years in the United States and Canada, it’s crucial that railroads respond in a timely manner. Instead we have seen secrecy from the big railroads and obstruction. It’s a response injured railroad workers are all too familiar with. If you have been hurt in a derailment call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 866-455-6657.

Norfolk Southern Coal Terminal Dust Concerns and Railroad Workers

John-cooperBy John Cooper, FELA Injury Lawyer

Over the last few years the furor over coal dust levels at Norfolk Southern’s coal terminal in Norfolk, VA has galvanized the local community of West Ghent who are concerned coal dust is harming their health.

But what about Norfolk Southern workers and the workers on other railroads who breath in these fumes on a daily basis?

The Virginian-Pilot has run a number of articles about health concerns related to the Lambert’s Point terminal. In a recent story it profiled Ray Gregory, a vociferous local resident who is urging Norfolk Southern to clean up its act.

The article makes me concerned for those residents of my hometown as well as railroad workers across the country who work with coal dust. Coal dust is an extremely deadly substance and is known to cause Pneumoconiosis, also known as ‘Black Lung Disease’, which according to the American Lung Association has no known cure or treatment. If the dust coats homes in West Ghent what does it do to the lungs of railroad workers?

According to the Pilot, state officials says most of the dust comes from an open dumper that was installed back in 1962. The state says nearly 90,000 pounds of coal dust blew off the site in 2013. The dumper flipped about 200,000 rail cars in the same year.

Residents living near a railroad terminal in southeast Newport News are also concerned about the effects of airborne coal dust.

I am concerned that railroad workers who work around flipped coal cars risk contracting lung disease.  In 1990 Olen R. Roberson, a former employee with Norfolk and Western Railway Company, was awarded benefits from Black Lung Disease he’d contracted while working as railroad worker around coal by the Department of Labor. Norfolk and Western Railway Company sued claiming that railroad workers were not eligible for compensation. However, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that railroad workers who worked with coal were eligible for benefits from contracting Black Lung Disease, a decision that was upheld by the US Supreme Court.

Railroad workers are exposed to many dangerous substances and chemicals in their industry. Lung cancer and other cancers are associated with exposure to a range of toxic chemicals, such sand dust (silica), asbestos, coal dust, diesel fumes and exhaust, as well as fumes from processes such as welding. Railroad workers and other workers who are frequently exposed to such substances during their time on the railroad It’s common to find negligence on the part of the companies which employ them, leaving the railroads open to a lawsuit under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

If you have fallen ill on the railroad as a result to exposure to harmful substances, call our railroad worker injury lawyers at 866.455.6657.

Norfolk Southern Railroad Worker is Awarded $1 Million over Van Accident in Georgia Rail Yard

John-cooperBy John Cooper, Railroad Worker Accident Lawyer

Rail yards are one of the most dangerous places for workers in the United States. Recently a CSX worker was killed in an accident at a Richmond rail yard.

Even when workers survive, they can be left with serious injuries. The Daily Report recently noted how a railroad worker who was injured when the van in which he was a passenger was hit by a slow-moving locomotive in an Atlanta, GA rail yard is set to collect $1 million after a Fulton County jury verdict.

The worker is now able to work again but the jury concluded he would likely lose several years of earning ability because of his injuries, according to his attorney James Holland II of Harrell and Harrell in Jacksonville, Florida.

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The defendant railroad and van operator turned down an offer to settle the case for $450,000 before trial, according to the attorney. Winfred Evans, a 46-year-old Norfolk Southern Railway freight conductor, was a passenger in a van belonging to Professional Transportation Inc. (PTI), which the railroad used to take workers around the Inman Rail Yard. The van was said to be traveling parallel to a set of rail tracks and approached a crossing at the same time as a locomotive.

Attorneys for the plaintiff said the van turned right in front of the train, which was traveling between 8 and 10 miles an hour, hitting it. Evans suffered pain after the wreck, Holland said, but did not go to the hospital. The next morning he experienced difficulty moving.

He went to see an orthopedic specialist, who diagnosed him with left shoulder strain, lumbar and cervical strain, an injury that left him out of work for 17 months. He returned to work for Norfolk Southern after the accident. He brought a lawsuit under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 2012.

The main issue in the case was how serious and permanent the railroad worker’s injuries proved to be. His attorney said he suffered permanent nerve damage.

The trial wrapped up April 9 and the jury took more than five hours to return a verdict the next day, All cases are different and we cannot guarantee the same result in your case. Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers have represented railroad workers who have been injured in vans in railroad yards. If you have suffered a serious injury on the railroad, call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 866-455-6657.