Railroads hold all the cards


Each year freight trains and cars collide more than 4,000 times, resulting in more than 400 deaths. In the safest year in railroad history, 1999, 402 people were killed and 1,369 were seriously injured. Can you imagine our legislators allowing the airline industry the freedom to accumulate yearly statistics representing such a staggering loss of life?

When a train-car accident occurs at a dangerous railroad crossing, local law enforcement agencies are powerless to help the victims and families with vital resources and information because federal law pre-empts state law. Most railroad accidents are reported to the Federal Railroad Administration. Only by hiring legal representation and court orders can families obtain valuable accident information and data that can determine the cause of such preventable tragedies.

The first five to 10 weeks after an accident are the most critical. The NTSB gathers statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration; however, the NTSB is the only agency with the authority to fully investigate such fatal crashes, the same as airline crashes.

As parents of a child killed at a dangerous, unprotected railroad crossing, we understand the frustration and helplessness after such tragedies. The first people on the scene usually are railroad claims agents or railroad police, followed by emergency personnel, who have been trained by the railroads on how to investigate and handle such collisions.

U.S. Rep Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has introduced the Fatal Grade Crossing Accident Investigations Act, H.R. 1942. It would require the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate all crashes between a train and a motor vehicle that result in a fatality.

If signed into law, it would require mandatory toxicology tests on railroad employees (required or routinely done on all motorists) in addition to immediate submission of the "black box" data and event recorders to local law enforcement agencies. These data record safety procedures of the train crew and verify whether the safety equipment at the crossing was functioning properly, as well as whether safety procedures were followed. Currently, this information is turned over to the railroad company involved
for analysis and a final report.

We encourage everyone interested in seeing the NTSB perform accurate, independent investigations of all fatal railroad grade-crossing accidents without influence or prejudice, to call or write their congressman and state legislators and ask for their support of this very important bill that will save lives.

Dennis and Vicky Moore of Lawrence Township founded the Angels on Track Foundation after their son was killed in a 1995 car-train collision. The foundation is devoted to getting flashing lights and gates installed at dangerous crossings throughout Ohio. A $5.4 million jury award allows the foundation to assist counties that need money for improvements.


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