Railroad Safety Laws and Deadly Train Wrecks in Illinois

Railroad Safety Laws and Deadly Train Wrecks in Illinois

In our last post, we discussed how laws, rules, and regulations dealing with railroads and train operations exist at federal, state, and local levels and how they work together to combat the real danger of fatal train crashes in our part of the country.

Illinois Third in the Country for Rail Collisions in 2016

Indiana and Illinois are known for being covered with rails that move an amazing amount of freight and a huge volume of passengers every year as they are transported across the nation and down to the Gulf Coast.  You can review the complicated 2017 Illinois rail system map here.

In 2016, the State of Illinois had more railroad crossings (public and private) than any other state in the country (saving one).  Illinois ranked THIRD in the nation in railroad collisions.  (Indiana was fourth.)

Illinois Rail Safety Regulation

In the State of Illinois, the Illinois Commerce Commission oversees rail safety.  This state agency drafts and implements the state’s safety requirements for rail carriers and their railroad tracks, their train facilities, and their rail equipment.  The ICC also has the power to oversee compliance with its state regulations.

In its Rail Safety Section, the ICC does the following:

  • Manages crossing safety projects paid, in part, by the Grade Crossing Protection Fund;
  • Engineers oversight of all safety improvements and/or modifications to the State’s public highway/rail crossings;
  • Inspects all Railroad track in the State for defects which could cause train derailments;
  • Oversees all Railroad hazardous material shipments through the State, including radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel;
  • Engineers oversight of all improvements/modifications to highway traffic signal systems interconnected with Railroad warning devices; and
  • Implements Illinois’ Operation Lifesaver public education campaign.

The Rail Safety Section of the Illinois Commerce Commission also has the task of investigating train crashes and rail accidents in the State of Illinois.

Illinois Operation Lifesaver

One big effort to combat the danger of fatal train wrecks in Illinois is the state’s Operation Lifesaver.  It is “… an active, continuing public education program designed to reduce the number of crashes, deaths and injuries at highway-rail intersections.”

From Operation Lifesaver’s statistics, we know:

  • Illinois had 120 crashes at public crossings in 2016
  • Illinois has over 7,300 miles of track
  • Illinois has 7,674 public crossings
  • Illinois has 3,740 private crossings.

Investigation of Rail Accidents by Federal and State Authorities

Both the Rail Safety Section of the ICC and the Office of Railroad Safety of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have the duty to investigate fatal train crashes.

These are official government investigations into the reasons for the accident, to learn its causes and find ways to prevent or minimize these kinds of accidents in the future.

The government investigators will look into:

  • Any collision, derailment, or passenger train incident resulting in at least one fatality or serious injury to railroad passengers or crew members
  • Any railroad related accident resulting in death to an on-duty railroad employee including an employee of a contractor to a railroad, regardless of craft
  • Any highway-rail grade crossing accident resulting in
    • Death to one or more persons being transported in a commercial vehicle or school bus:
    • Serious injury to several persons being transported in a commercial vehicle or school bus:
    • Death to three or more persons in a private highway vehicle; or
    • No fatality, but involving a malfunction or failure of an active warning device that allegedly contributed to or caused the accident
  • Most Amtrak related accidents/incidents
  • Any train accident/incident with damages exceeding $1 million
  • Any non-casualty train accident resulting in the derailment of a locomotive and/or a large number of cars, and extensive property damage
  • Any train accident/incident resulting in a fire, explosion, or release of a regulated hazardous material, especially if it exposed a community to these hazards or the threat of such exposure
  • Any accident/incident involving a train transporting nuclear materials
  • Any train incident involving runaway equipment, with or without locomotives
  • Any collision involving maintenance-of-way or hi-rail equipment
  • Any accident caused by failure of a locomotive or any part of a locomotive, or a person coming in contact with an electrically energized part that resulted in serious injury or death of one or more persons
  • Any other train accident/incident that is likely to arouse considerable public interest

Finding Fault and Probable Cause for the Fatal Train Crash and Rail Accident

For any victim of a railroad accident, it is vital to investigate the possible legal liability of the rail company as well as other third parties that may have contributed to making the accident happen.

These can be complicated and cumbersome fact-finding missions.  However, under the personal injury laws of Illinois (and Indiana), it is the accident victim who bears the responsibility of proving up his or her injury claim.

This means that the victim must have admissible and authenticated evidence that the wrongdoers are indeed at fault for the crash and that they caused the accident by their actions, or failures to act.  

Having the investigations undertaken by these official rail safety experts can be very helpful to train crash victims and their families in seeking justice. 

The reports do not replace the need for the victim’s civil team to determine what has happened in the incident.  These reports do support and confirm expert results and determinations of probable cause.

Justice for Train Crash Deaths and Railroad Accident Fatalities in Illinois

For train crash victims who have been killed in the rail accident here in Illinois, the law provides an avenue for their loved ones to find justice in the aftermath of the tragedy.  For victims who have been killed while on the job as a railroad worker, there is a special federal law that protects their interests known as FELA (“Federal Employers Liability Act “).

Regulations are in place at both the federal and state level to help victims of an Illinois train accident. Rail safety laws and their resulting government oversight investigations into causes of the crash can help these claims confirm legal liability on the part of the wrongdoers. 

If you live, work, or drive near a railroad track in Illinois, please be aware of the dangers involved in any kind of railroad accident here.  Be careful out there!


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