Unsafe railroad crossings put workers and others at risk for serious injury or death. Railway companies have a duty of care to their employees and the general public that includes ensuring crossings are properly marked, maintained and functioning correctly. When signs are absent or safety features deficient, rail operators increase the likelihood of an accident that will cause serious injury or death. In 2014, there were nearly 12,000 accidents at railroad crossings. These caused 804 fatalities and thousands of more injuries.
Steep grades at railroad crossings are a common cause of accidents. These accidents occur because the driver’s view is diminished as he or she attempts to pass over the crossing. Steep grades can also cause vehicles to “bottom out” and become stuck on the crossing. These types of accidents typically occur at older crossings that were built before regulatory changes regarding crossing design were implemented in the 1990’s.
At crossings built prior to these changes, current regulations do little more than require railroad operators to post signs warning of the possibility of bottoming out and prohibiting specific types of vehicles from crossing. Steep grades also create dangers for railway workers conducting track maintenance along the track near intersections where the presence of vehicular traffic can essentially sandwich workers between fast-moving trains and traffic and leave them with no room to maneuver or avoid a collision.
Railroad operators are required to properly install and maintain safety systems that prevent access to the tracks while a train is approaching or passing through an intersection. When railroad crossing gates fail to lower, it increases the risk that a vehicle or pedestrian will attempt to cross the tracks. These types of accidents commonly occur in areas with poor line of sight, or because of weather conditions that cause diminished visibility.
A common cause of barrier malfunctions is water infiltration. As water seeps into electrical components, it can cause short circuits which can activate the signal when a train isn’t present, or fail to activate it when it is. Malfunctioning electrical components are a common cause of railway worker injuries.
Poor Maintenance Can Lead to Derailment
Track sections located within crossings are under more strain than regular sections of track. The presence of vehicular traffic means that tracks can become easily damaged by the weight of vehicles passing over them. Failure to correct this means that the train can derail as it passes through the intersection.