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NTSB: human error behind 2017 South Dakota railway crash

In September 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on a railway accident that occurred in January 2017 in South Dakota. Railway workers and their employees in New York may be able to learn from this incident, which was the 52nd fatal railway accident to occur in the past 21 years.

The accident occurred when a BNSF train traveling at 35 miles per hour hit and killed two employees who were clearing ice and snow from a track switch. One was a 35-year-old gang foreman who had been working for BNSF for 10 years, and the other was a 58-year-old motor vehicle operator employed by the railway company for 39 years.

One of the men was the designated lookout who provides the train approach warning. However, the track switch's sight distance was inadequate for only one lookout. The men were actually misinformed concerning minimum-required sight distance. The NTSB also notes that the lookout could not devote his attention to watching for approaching trains, and he was not given the proper lookout equipment.

BNSF representatives state that they follow Federal Railroad Administration standards for their lookout equipment. The NTSB believes the FRA has been enforcing those standards inconsistently, and that contributed to the accident. The FRA, for its part, is reviewing the report and says it will respond within 90 days.

Railroad employees who are injured can file FELA claims to be covered for their past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering and mental anguish. However, unlike with workers' compensation claims, the victim must prove that the accident was caused by the railroad company's fault or negligence. This is where a lawyer can come in and, if necessary, have the accident investigated. An attorney can then negotiate for the maximum possible amount of damages, which will be reduced if the victim contributed to the accident.

Source: Insurance Journal, 'NTSB: Errors Led to Death of 2 BNSF Railroad Workers in South Dakota," September 10, 2018

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