Motorist approached a busy eight-track grade crossing. Crossing had two gates for motorists traveling in this direction, one gate prior to the first track and another gate prior to the third track. Motorist stopped at the second set of gates, with his vehicle between tracks 2 and 3, for a train on the third track. During a lengthy wait for the switching move to clear the crossing, he decided to turn around and return in the direction from which he came. He executed a “K-turn,” proceeded in the opposite direction, and was struck by a passenger train on the first track. Subsequent investigation revealed a misprogrammed crossing controller unit, causing the crossing warning devices to activate both gates simultaneously upon the approach of a train (potentially trapping motorists on the tracks, between the two lowered gates), instead of in sequence (first the “outer” gate and then the “inner” gate, preventing vehicles from being trapped between them). As such, the crossing warning devices were functioning in a less safe manner than designed. During a site inspection more than one year after the accident, the same controller was observed to be still functioning in the misprogrammed fashion.
SUV containing three teenage boys was struck by a freight train at a crossing. The one surviving teenager stated that the flashers were not working as they approached the crossing. Since the accident, the crossing had been moved 300 feet to the west to straighten the highway approach, with new warning devices installed. Counsel retained IWT to create a video and motion-picture film-based documentary depicting what the teenagers would likely have seen while approaching the crossing, both with the flashers working and not working. IWT supervised the re-installation of active warning devices at the original location, tested them to ensure compliance with FRA and railroad specifications, and re-enacted the accident.
A motorcyclist was proceeding down a gravel-covered country road at night at a high rate of speed. Upon descending a hill, he came to an unprotected railroad crossing (having only a crossbuck, no flashers or gates). Unable to stop, he collided with the side of the passing 60 MPH freight train, suffering amputation of 3 of his 4 limbs and other serious injuries. Investigation centered on the actions of the motorcyclist, reflectivity of the crossbuck, and reflectivity of the passing freight cars.
School bus driver stopped her bus at a red traffic light just beyond a crossing, unaware that the rear of her bus was fouling the track. Bus was struck moments later by a commuter train, resulting in seven fatalities. Investigation focused on the design of the traffic signal interconnection circuits and the calculation of the minimum required warning time for the automatic warning devices.
Driver of a 15-passenger van came to a stop behind lowered crossing gates. After the train passed, the gates began to ascend and the driver began to ascend the steep uphill grade to the crossing. As he passed the ascending gate, the gate reversed direction and began to descend. Driver became stuck in deep snow at the top of the grade, and was struck by a commuter train. Investigation focused on the actions of the driver and the locomotive engineer, as well as the adequacy of the warning time afforded by the automatic warning devices.
Train crew switching cars stopped a cut of freight cars over a passive highway grade crossing at night, without placing flares or stationing a flagman at the crossing. A vehicle approaching in heavy fog ascended a short grade to the track and collided with the side of the standing train. Investigation addressed the actions of the train crew, lack of reflectivity of the freight cars, and the absence of the required crossbuck sign for vehicles traveling in the same direction as the accident vehicle.
A motorist, familiar with the 5-track crossing, followed other vehicles around lowered gates and was struck by a passenger train. Investigation addressed the actions of the motorist and the reliability of the automatic warning devices, which had a long-standing history of false activation. Several false activations of the flashers and gates were in fact observed during the post-accident site inspection.
A vehicle approaching a crossing at night was struck by an eastbound freight train, resulting in the death of all three occupants. One year prior to the accident, the cantilever flashing light signal at the crossing had been knocked down by an over-height truck. The cantilever was replaced by a mast-mounted flashing light unit while a new cantilever was procured and assembled at the site. The new cantilever laid in the ditch adjacent to the crossing, fully assembled, for approximately one year while the mast-mounted flasher remained in service. Three days after the accident, the mast-mounted flasher was replaced with the new cantilever. Investigation dealt with the effectiveness of cantilever-mounted flashers as opposed to standard mast-mounted flashers, and the nature of the delay in installing the replacement cantilever.
Switching crew was backing a cut of cars over a four-lane highway with operating cantilever-mounted flashing lights at night when an approaching vehicle struck the side of the lead car as it traveled over the crossing. Investigation focused on the actions of the motorist, operation of the automatic warning devices, and the length of time that elapsed between the instant at which the crossing flashers began to operate and the instant of time at which the leading edge of the train physically occupied the crossing.
Motorist was struck and killed by a freight train at a grade crossing. Investigation revealed that the active warning devices at the crossing had been removed from service earlier in the day by the Signal Maintainer. The Train Dispatcher failed to pass the information along to his relief dispatcher. As a result, a subsequent train entered the out-of-service crossing at maximum track speed and collided with the highway vehicle. Contributing to the accident was the failure to properly maintain a track battery and replace the exhausted battery when it was discovered four days prior to the accident, instead of removing the crossing from service.
Flashers and gates were taken out of service (i.e. - temporarily configured so as to not activate for approaching trains) to eliminate false activations due to excessive road salt in the crossing area. Signal maintainer applied a "stop and protect" order with the train dispatcher, instructing all train crews to stop and manually flag the head-end of their train over the crossing until further notice. Engineer of approaching train became confused as to whether the crossing he was approaching was in fact the subject crossing, causing him to begin his brake application and speed reduction too late. Instead of stopping prior to the crossing and manually flagging highway traffic to a stop before proceeding, the train crew entered the crossing at 38 MPH, striking a vehicle and fatally injuring two occupants. Investigation centered around train crew physical characteristics qualification, and practice of leaving crossings out of service for extended periods due to road salt contamination.
A motorcyclist stopped at a grade crossing behind lowered gates. After the train passed, the gate began to ascend. As he began to move forward, the gate on his side of the track unexpectedly started back down, striking him on the top of the head and knocking him from the bike. Investigation determined that gate redescent was likely a "tail-ring," caused when the receding train momentarily lost shunt, prompting the crossing predictor unit to reset and then reactivate as though another train was approaching. The crossing predictor unit's internal event recorder noted 63 similar occurrences prior to the subject accident, likely the product of extremely rusty rail.
Railroad on-track self-propelled brush cutter was struck by a vehicle as it passed over a four-lane highway, resulting in driver fatality. Investigation centered on visibility of crossing flashers and employee's crossing flagging procedures.
Local freight crew cleared their locomotive and cars in a siding adjacent to a busy highway crossing, awaiting the passage of a passenger train before resuming their switching work. Crossing flashers and gates failed to activate for the approaching passenger train until it reached the edge of the highway. Passenger train entered the four-lane crossing at 70 MPH, colliding with two semi-trailers and one automobile, causing fatal injuries to the automobile driver. Cause of accident was the freight crews' failure to remain off of the fouling track circuit on the siding. They slowly creeped up to the derail and onto the fouling track circuit as the passenger train approached, anticipating their reentry onto the main line after the passenger train had passed. The predictor timed out against the resulting shunt, effectively shortening the crossing track approach circuit to that point, approximately 30 feet from the crossing. This occurred after the passenger train had already passed the last intermediate signal prior to impact.
A truck driver hauling a low-boy trailer carrying an excavator became hung up on a humped grade crossing. Trailer was struck by a commuter train (traveling 70 MPH in a 59 MPH zone), resulting in the complete destruction of the trailer and excavator. Investigation delved into state high/wide/heavy route permitting procedures, lack of signage at crossing, humped nature of crossing, and additional braking distance required due to overspeed nature of approaching train.
Driver approaching a four-quad gate crossing drove through the lowered gate and was broadsided by a 70 MPH passenger train, resulting in three fatalities. Investigation focused on driver human factors, four-quad gate crossing design, and crossing event recorder data analysis.
A motorist stopped behind a lowered gate at a crossing. No train was seen or heard to be approaching. Gate began to ascend, and motorist began to move forward. As soon as the gate attained the vertical position, it began to re-descend, trapping the subject motorist and several others between the lowered gates. Train entered the crossing and struck the subject vehicle, resulting in four fatalities. Cause was found to be a crossing design error wherein the crossing's predictor unit was terminated with a wide-band shunt instead of a narrow-band shunt, and was operating on a frequency that was too close to that of an adjacent crossing. Investigation hence center on failure to adhere to manufacturer's recommended design practices and generally-accepted industry standards.
Passenger train struck a vehicle at a crossing, killing the vehicle's passenger. Warning time was verified by the crossing's event recorder to have been 6 seconds (should be a minimum of 20). Cause was found to be a buildup of rust and scale on the tread of the wheels of the passenger train, causing a loss of shunt on the crossing's approach circuit.
A brakeman was riding the leading edge of a seven-car cut, being pushed by two locomotives, operating the locomotives via a remote-control beltpack. He approached a grade crossing at which he was required to stop prior to shoving over the highway, due to an "island only" approach track circuit that extended only 65 feet beyond the edge of the highway. He failed to stop his shove move as required, entered the crossing at 7 MPH, struck a cargo truck, and was crushed between the truck and the train. Criminal charges were filed against the truck driver for failing to stop short of the crossing. Investigation revealed that, due to the angle of the truck's approach, none of the crossing flashers were visible to the driver, the train itself was not visible to the truck driver due to the crossing's extreme skew angle with the track, the train failed to sound its horn as it entered the crossing, and the train failed to stop short of the crossing and proceed over the crossing only with flag protection, as required. As a result, the defendant was found not guilty of all charges.
Individual in a motorized wheelchair was attempting to negotiate a sidewalk crossing over a main track, adjacent to a highway grade crossing having flashers and gates. Wheelchair’s front wheels became stuck in the flangeway of the near rail. A freight train approached, activated the crossing warning devices, and struck and fatally injured the wheelchair’s occupant. Investigation examined the sidewalk crossing surface for potholes and width of the flangeway, as well as the operational characteristics of the wheelchair.
Two college students were walking across a single-track railroad trestle (that had no walkway) when a freight train approached from behind them. Both individuals began to run along the trestle away from the approaching train. One student jumped off the trestle into the water before the train reached them, while the other student was struck and seriously injured 5 feet from the end of the trestle. Investigation centered on human factors issues associated with trespass, and a full audibility analysis of the locomotive horn.
A passenger de-training at a high level platform fell between the passenger car and the platform, suffering contusions. Investigation determined the likely size of the gap and compared the value to ADA requirements and generally-accepted industry practices.
A switch crew was shoving a long string of loaded double-stack cars into a yard track for unloading. A truck driver was working adjacent to the track, coupling his tractor and chassis in preparation for loading. During the coupling process, he momentarily stepped from between the tractor and chassis onto the adjacent track, where he was struck and killed by the leading end of the train. Investigation focused on failure to protect leading end of shove move, failure to warn employees in the area of a pending shove move, and failure to safety train the decedent, who was an independent owner/operator, as to safety procedures to follow while conducting work in an intermodal yard.
A 15-year-old male and his dog, returning home from a grocery store via a well-worn footpath over the tracks, passed through a gap in the right-of-way fence, waited for the passage of one train, then were struck by an unseen train approaching on the adjacent track as they tried to cross to the other side of the track. Investigation focused on human factors, right-of-way fencing and signage issues.
Two 15-year-old males observed a standing railroad covered hopper car parked on a siding under energized catenary. They climbed to the top of the car, reached upward, and grasped the live 14,000-volt catenary wire. The resulting arc blew both males off of the top of the car to the ground, causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns to approximately 75% of the body of each. IWT's investigation dealt with manner of trespasser access to company property, signage standards for warning of high-voltage hazards, and railroad company practices for deenergizing catenary wires over siding tracks containing standing railroad cars.
Train Collision/Derailment Cases:
An eastbound train took a siding in unsignaled territory to await the passage of a westbound train on the main track, as instructed via a written train order. The train order instructed the eastbound train to remain in the siding until after the passage of a westbound train with a specific locomotive on the head end. After the passage of one train (not the one they had been instructed to wait for), the eastbound train’s conductor mistakenly lined the switch reverse and proceeded eastward onto the main track. Their train traveled five miles eastward before colliding head-on with the westbound train, resulting in two fatalities. Investigation examined the human factors and operating rules compliance issues associated with the eastbound crew, and whether or not the accident would likely have occurred had the main line been signaled.
Two switch locomotives pulling 85 cars without air derailed due to wide gage in a yard and were pushed 300 feet by the weight of the following cars. The movement came to a stop as the locomotives burrowed into the ground and came to rest at a 45-degree angle. Locomotive engineer claimed a back injury from being thrown against the control stand during the derailment sequence. IWT created computer-generated animation, depicting the accident from both within the locomotive cab and from the ground beside it, to demonstrate to a jury what the locomotive engineer would likely have experienced during the derailment.
A locomotive engineer passed a red Stop Signal, colliding head-on with a passenger train traveling in the opposite direction. Subsequent investigation revealed a degenerative eye disorder on the part of the engineer, leading to color blindness and a likely inability to distinguish yellow signals from red ones. IWT worked in concert with NTSB and railroad personnel to produce a broadcast-quality video and computer animation-based re-enactment of what each locomotive engineer would likely have seen as their respective trains approached the point of impact, synchronized with data taken from the locomotive event recorders.
A locomotive engineer operating a commuter train passed an automatic signal displaying Approach and made a flag stop to pick up passengers. Upon starting up from the station stop, the engineer apparently forgot that he was operating on an Approach indication and accelerated to maximum authorized speed. As his train rounded a curve, interlocking home signals came into view displaying a Stop indication. Engineer placed his train into emergency and slid through the interlocking, colliding head-on with a passenger train traveling in the opposite direction. Investigation focused on human-factors issues associated with the actions of the commuter train engineer and conductor and design of the recently reconfigured signal system.
Train proceeding on a Clear signal rounded a curve at 56 MPH and observed a Stop signal at the interlocking ahead. Engineer placed train in emergency, causing a block of loaded ballast cars on the rear of the train to run in, derailing the train in three separate locations. Investigation determined cause to be a broken track bond wire in advance of the interlocking, which caused the track circuit to drop and the interlocking signal to dump to Stop in front of the train. Also examined was train makeup, as the heaviest cars were placed on the rear of the train.
An inexperienced operator was instructed to manually operate a remote-control commuter train for testing purposes. Train had been loaded with concrete blocks simulating the weight of passengers for braking tests. Automatic interlocks designed to prevent excessive train speed were disengaged for the duration of the test. Operator entered a 10 MPH curve at 50 MPH, causing the train set to derail and collide with an adjacent concrete retaining wall. Concrete blocks loaded in the passenger compartment flew forward on impact and pinned the operator against the control stand, causing fatal injuries. Investigation focused on operator and test supervisor training, quality of supervision, and propriety of testing procedures.
The engineer of a passenger train apparently passed a red "stop" signal and collided head-on with a freight train, resulting in 25 fatalities and over 100 injuries. Investigation revealed that the engineer had been texting shortly before the collision. IWT conducted extensive visibility and service testing of the wayside signal system to determine if it could have displayed a clear signal, as five separate eyewitnesses said that it had. Signal system event recorders indicated that the signal was red, and had been for 43 minutes prior to the passenger train's passage. Event data from the signal system, locomotives involved, GPS and cell phone records were all synchronized to produce one unified second-by-second timeline of events leading up to the collision.
The crew of a local switcher completed their work and parked their two locomotives in a non-signaled siding for the night. Upon leaving the area in a taxi, they forgot to restore the track switch to the normal (straight) position. Several hours later, a 40-MPH freight train approached the switch in the dark from around a curve, was unable to stop short of the misaligned switch, and entered the siding at track speed, colliding with the parked locomotives. Both locomotives and 16 of 42 freight cars on the striking train derailed, including three tank cars carrying chlorine. The tank cars ruptured, spreading a toxic cloud throughout the community, causing 9 fatalities and over 500 injuries. Investigation focused on human factors actions of the crews and whether the collision could have been prevented through the use of readily-available signaling technology.
A commuter railroad was upgrading its signal track circuits incrementally, mixing and matching safety-critical track circuit components from different manufacturers. Components had never been tested and certified to be compatible with each other. During the course of the changeout program, they changed the adjustment of a particular track circuit without performing the required operational checks. The track circuit was so far out of adjustment that it was unable to detect trains occupying it (indicated a "Clear Block" even when it was occupied by a train). Track circuit operated in this fashion for a significant period of time prior to the crash. A passenger train stopped unexpectedly short of the station platform, and was short enough in length that the entire train fit within the track circuit. The track circuit showed a "Clear Block," allowing a following commuter train to be cleared to operate at track speed into the occupied block. The following train collided with the rear of the standing train, causing 9 fatalities and over 50 injuries. Investigation centered on track circuit design, maintenance, and testing procedures.
Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) Cases:
New Signal Dept. employee climbed a pole to perform line work. While descending the pole, he “gaffed out” and fell 20 feet to the ground, suffering a compound fracture of the tibia. Investigation focused on the overall adequacy of the pole-climbing training and supervision afforded to the employee prior to the climb, and the employee’s comprehension and retention of the climbing techniques he had been taught.
Experienced Signal Dept. employee climbed a wood pole to perform line work. As he reached the top of the pole, the pole snapped at ground level and fell, causing the employee to suffer a compound leg fracture. Investigation looked at the technique used by the employee to inspect the pole for rot prior to climbing it, and the railroad’s accepted procedure for pole inspection as compared to that found elsewhere in the railroad and power utility industries.
Track Dept. employee obtained track time and blocking device protection at an interlocking from the train dispatcher. Shortly thereafter, the train dispatcher went off-duty. His replacement dispatcher, without contacting the Track Dept. employee, removed the blocking device applied by the preceding dispatcher and threw a power switch, trapping the Track Dept. employee’s foot and causing crushing injuries. Investigation scrutinized the railroad’s procedure for applying and removing blocking device protection for field employees.
Track Inspector obtained verbal permission from the dispatcher to change a bolt on a power switch machine. Partway through the operation, the Trainmaster ordered the power switch lined normal. The Operator complied, trapping the Track Inspector’s hand in the switch point and causing crushing injuries. Investigation examined the procedure by which power switches were removed from service for maintenance, and the availability of suitable tools for clamping switch points prior to working on them.
A Contractor’s employee was moving an on-track push cart loaded with rail. Push cart was missing its handle, requiring employee to control its movements with only a rope. Employee’s foot slipped off tie and fell between ties on elevated track, causing a compound fracture. Investigation centered on human factors issues surrounding need to properly inspect equipment prior to use, maintain proper footing when walking, and use of proper footwear.
Track Dept. employee was operating a mechanized “walking hammer” machine in a rail replacement crew, and was belted into his operator’s seat facing to the side, the normal operator’s position for this machine. While “deadheading” to the next work location at approx. 10 MPH, the machine struck a protruding lag bolt on a crossing timber, bringing it to an abrupt halt. The employee remained belted into the seat, but sustained a back injury. Railroad’s contract with the machine supplier required the supplier to furnish machines with a minimum ground clearance of 3 inches. Subsequent investigation of the machine involved in the accident determined that its ground clearance was only 1.5 inches.
Conductor on a yard job was switching cars at night in a snowstorm when he apparently stumbled while descending the steps of the moving locomotive preparing to dismount. He fell onto the ground behind the locomotive and suffered the amputation of both legs by the lead axle of the first car. Investigation centered on the railroad’s approved method for dismounting moving equipment, and found improper welded repairs to the locomotive’s stairwell, causing it to function in a manner less safe than designed. IWT, in concert with metallurgical and locomotive expert Tom Johnson and biomechanical expert Nat Ordway, re-created the accident using computer-generated animation for presentation to the jury at trial.
A freight train struck and seriously injured a signal maintainer near a rail/highway grade crossing. Investigation focused on the nature of on-track protection in place for the signal maintainer and the actions of the train crew.
Three Signal Dept. employees were cleaning snow and ice out of a power track switch near a passenger station at night in a snowstorm. While huddled together in the middle of the track, they were struck from behind by a commuter train, resulting in one fatality. Investigation centered on motorman's failure to display headlight, train horn packed with snow and inoperative, work crew's failure to post watchmen as required by safety rules, and motorman's possession of unauthorized reading material while on duty.
Signal contractor was working on overhead catenary line when he inadvertently contacted an energized wire, suffering 3rd degree burns over 40% of his body. His initial contact with the wire caused protective circuit breakers to open, lessening the damage. After the circuit breakers opened, the Power Director attempted to manually reclose them without investigating the cause of their opening. The re-energization shocked the employee a second time, causing more extensive damage. Investigation centered on lockout/tagout procedures and Power Director automatic circuit reclosing procedures.
Electronic technician needed to replace a blown high-voltage fuse on a steel catenary pole. He possessed the proper extraction and replacement tool, which was located in his truck, parked in the vicinity. Instead of descending the pole to retrieve the proper tool, he apparently elected to perform the job with his bare hands. While inserting the new fuse, he contacted live energy, resulting in his complete loss of both hands. Investigation focused on employee actions and quality of safety-related training and supervision.
Track Foreman was blowing snow off of a pedestrian crossing at a station, at night, in a snowstorm, on a curve, without a watchman, and without track authorization from the train dispatcher. A freight train entered the platform and struck the Foreman from behind, causing fatal injuries. Investigation focused on on-track protection procedures and the nature of the relationship between the Foreman's employer (commuter railroad) and the Class 1 freight railroad that owned and dispatched the track involved.
Signal maintainer reported a seemingly high number of signal system tests as having been completed during a given period of time. He was brought in by his employer for a hearing and dismissed. Employee filed suit to either return to his former position or receive severance compensation. IWT was retained to conduct a time study of how long it would likely take to perform the reported tests.
State Department of Transportation moved to close one of three grade crossings passing through village. IWT was retained by the village to study the effects of such crossing closure on traffic and pedestrian flows and emergency response times.
(non-railroad) Electronic Technician working at a building construction site attempted to repair a high-voltage device that he was neither trained or licensed to work on, and that lay outside the scope of his assigned work responsibilities. Without attempting to determine whether or not it was energized or to apply lockout-tagout (LOTO) protection, he apparently attempted to strip the insulation from a live wire while trying to effect the repair. His metal wirestrippers conducted 277-volt energy through both arms and his torso, resulting in his death. Investigation focused on the employee's lack of training, licensure, and supervision, as well as overall LOTO procedures in place on the overall jobsite at the time of the incident.