Miles and miles of rails roam through our part of the country, as freight, cargo and passengers are transported through Indiana and Illinois to destinations on both coasts as well as down south.
This is vital to our local economy as well as the smooth operation of the country as a whole. But it is also inevitable that there will be all kinds of serious injuries and fatal accidents involving the local rails.
High Risk of Fatal Train Accidents in Indiana and Illinois
Sadly, we have a reputation for being a high-risk area for fatal rail accidents. In fact, we are recognized as being one of the most dangerous areas for rail fatalities in the country. See: Fatal Railroad Accidents: Indiana and Illinois Both Rank in Top 5 for Number of Train Crash Deaths.
Why is it so dangerous here in Indiana and Illinois? We have a high volume of rail traffic. We also have dangerous cargo on many of those freight trains that we see moving through our communities on a daily basis.
Moreover, it’s not just one kind of risk that endangers all of us for these deadly train wrecks. A variety of train accidents happen in Indiana and Illinois that hurt or kill people. Read, “Types and Causes of Train Crashes and Railroad Accidents” for details.
Liability and Fault: Railroad Safety Laws and Regulations
Of course, there are both federal and state efforts to lessen the danger of railroad fatalities here. In this post, we will consider the safety laws and regulations that apply in Indiana. In our next post, we’ll delve into the legal protections that exist in Illinois.
Why are these important? First of all, railroad safety exists to try and minimize these deadly rail accidents. Enacting safety laws and enforcing compliance is vital to keeping railroad operations safe.
Of course, despite these efforts, serious and fatal accidents on our local rails still occur much too often.
This leads us to the second reason these laws and regulations are important. The failure of a railroad company, a rail worker, a cargo company, or any third party responsible for tracks, easements, repairs or maintenance, etc., to abide by railroad safety requirements can provide evidence of fault and causation in a wrongful death lawsuit or personal injury claim.
When reviewing an accident for liability and responsibility for damages and harm, several levels of law and regulation must be analyzed as they apply to the particular circumstances. These include federal, state, and local railroad safety regulations.
Federal Railroad Safety Laws and Enforcement
At the federal level, rail safety is monitored by the Federal Railroad Administration, which is a part of the Department of Transportation. Specifically, within the FRA exists the Office of Railroad Safety (“ORS”).
The ORS employs 400 safety inspectors nationally. Indiana and Illinois are in the FRA’s Region 4.
The FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety investigates how well federal laws and regulations are being followed regarding:
- Hazardous Materials
- Locomotive Power
- Rail Equipment
- Operating Practices
- Rail Signals
- Train Control
- Rails and Track
- Training of Rail Workers
- Training of Rail Safety Inspectors
- Education of Rail Customers
- Railroad safety and customer training (including State safety inspectors)
The Office of Railroad Safety is also involved in any rail accident where someone dies. These accidents can include both a crash where people have been killed and accidents involving any on the job incident where a rail worker is killed.
These reports can work akin to the investigations performed by police and prosecutors in a fatal traffic accident or truck crash for the purposes of a criminal charge. Their analysis and information can be beneficial to any independent civil claim for damages resulting from the accident.
Railroad Safety in Indiana
In the State of Indiana, the Indiana Department of Transportation has its own Rail Office. The INDOT Rail Office is “…dedicated to preserving and developing freight and passenger corridors throughout the State of Indiana. This is done through financial assistance to railroads and port authorities, participation in regional planning groups, and monitoring rail industry developments.”
The Rail Office also deals with state rail safety concerns, including Indiana’s Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Action Plan.
It’s vital that Hoosiers have effective oversight of railroad dangers here in Indiana because of the high volume of train traffic that moves through our state.
As the Rail Office explains, “Virtually all rail freight coming from the east coast bound for Chicago must pass through the Northwest Indiana rail corridor.”
The Safety Action Plan is an Indiana strategy to improve railroad safety in the State of Indiana through:
- Reduction of the number of public grade crossings
- Encouraging grade separations where possible to bridge over or under busy rail lines
- Accelerating education
- Accelerating enforcement of rail safety laws and regulations
- Improving passive warning devices to the latest standards
- Upgrading active warning devices at crossings exhibiting the greatest need
- Focusing on grade crossings with a recent history of multiple collisions
View the spider web of rails that cover the State of Indiana in the online 2017 Rail System Map for the State of Indiana.
Justice for Train Crash Deaths and Railroad Accident Fatalities in Indiana
For anyone who is seriously injured or killed in a train accident here in Indiana, there are state personal injury laws that offer justice to the rail victim and his or her family.
For victims hurt in a rail accident while on the job, there is a special federal law that applies to their claim known as FELA (“Federal Employers Liability Act “).
These laws exist to help those who have suffered tragedy in an Indiana rail accident. The failure to abide by the existing laws and regulations governing rail transport today can help support these claims seeking to prove legal liability and the award of damages.
If you live, work or drive near a railroad track in Indiana, please be aware of the dangers involved in any kind of railroad accident here. Be careful out there!