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FRA recommends safe practices under signal suspension

New York residents may remember some of the more recent railroad accidents involving Amtrak, CSX and Union Pacific Railroad trains. Many of these occurred on railroads that had temporarily suspended the signal system for maintenance, repairs and other work. The trend is so prominent that the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a safety advisory for all railroads under signal suspensions.

Published in the Federal Register this November, it is the final development of a draft safety advisory issued in April. The FRA recommends that these railroads develop procedures that are consistent with previously identified best practices; that way, railroad workers will be protected during signal suspensions.

The FRA points to two incidents that reflect the need for such safety procedures. The first is a February incident in Cayce, S.C., where an Amtrak train crashed head-on with a CSX train, killing an engineer and conductor as well as injuring 115 passengers. An FRA preliminary investigation showed that a CSX crew, after lining a switch, left the main switch misaligned. This drove the Amtrak passenger train into the siding, which was where the CSX train was located.

The second incident happened in March near Granger, Wyo. Two UP trains collided when one was diverted by a misaligned switch. In both cases, signals were suspended for the installation and testing of positive train control technology.

Railroad workers know that they can file a FELA claim if they are injured. Unlike with workers' compensation, though, they must show that their injuries were caused through the negligence of the railroad. This is why having a lawyer is essential. Legal counsel could hire medical experts to prove that the reported injuries are accident-related. The railroad may try to have the damages lowered by pointing out that the victim was partly to blame, but the victim can leave all negotiations to the lawyer.

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