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Railroad workers at risk from employers and the general public

Many people in Louisiana and beyond earn their livings at Amtrak or other railway systems in the nation. Whether you're a conductor, engineer or line worker, you no doubt understand the tremendous safety risks involved on the job. Railroad work consistently ranks high on lists citing the most dangerous jobs in America. Sometimes, such risks come from motorists and other members of the public. Just as traffic safety analysts consider intersections extremely dangerous areas on the road, in the train world, officials can say the same about railroad crossings.

Hopefully, your employer has provided proper training and all available equipment to keep you as safe as possible on the job. It's always a good idea to be especially alert at a railroad crossing, however. If your job involves physically standing on the tracks in such areas (perhaps for maintenance reasons) you are greatly at risk for injury. Knowing the dangers ahead of time and where to seek help if an accident occurs are high priorities for all railroad workers.

Railroad crossing facts to remember

Not all railroad crossings are marked or secured with lights and mechanized gates. The following safety tips may serve as reminders to workers, motorists and pedestrians alike:

  • Engineers can't swerve to avoid collisions: You may have experienced situations in the past when you were driving your car and narrowly escaped a collision because you were able to react quickly and swerve to avoid an accident. Trains, however, cannot swerve. Locomotives are guided along rail systems and have no steering wheels. Although trains are equipped with emergency brakes and horns, these tools may not be enough to avert disaster if a vehicle or pedestrian tries to cross a set of tracks in time to beat an oncoming train.
  • Always expect that a train may be coming: Never assume there is no train in the area, simply because you don't see or hear one. As a railroad worker, you also must never assume that a particular crossing will be clear. Expect that a pedestrian or motorist may be on the tracks and be as prepared as possible to react accordingly.
  • Trains can't stop on a dime: Vehicles weighing 12 to 20 million pounds, such as trains, may not come to full stops for more than a mile even if all brake systems are engaged in a timely manner. In short, an engineer, conductor or other train worker may spot a problem up ahead but it still might not be in enough time to avoid a crash.
  • Trains outweigh cars 4,000 to 1: If you've ever seen what happens to a soda can when a car runs over it, you have some idea of what happens if a train collides with a car. A car shares the same weight ratio to a can of soda that a train shares with an average sized vehicle.

From the ground at a crossing, trains often look farther away and appear to be moving much slower than they actually are. As a railroad worker, your chances for injury increase any time a motorist or pedestrian disobeys warning signs or other traffic regulations regarding railroad crossings or other sections of train tracks and also when employers fail to maintain the crossings and tracks.

Thankfully, FELA protects injured railroad workers by allowing them to file personal injury claims against negligent employers. Sadly, employer negligence is often a causal factor in serious train collisions.

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