Two years ago, a Chicago dance instructor tragically lost her life when an Amtrak train struck her SUV as she attempted to cross the train tracks in University Park. According to a Federal Railroad Administration report released this week, the train-car crash was caused by members of the Canadian National Railway track crew.
The investigation determined that the crossing-protection system had been turned off by Canadian National track maintenance workers while they worked on track switches in the area. Unfortunately, an order to stop train traffic was lifted and flagmen were removed from the crossing before the warning system was successfully reactivated. As a result, the crossing's warning system activated a mere two seconds before the train entered the crossing, and the woman's SUV was struck by the train as she attempted to cross the tracks.
As a Chicago personal injury attorney, I find many facets of the Federal Railroad Administration's report troubling. First, the Canadian National signal supervisor had no training that would authorize him to supervise the crossing in question on that day. Canadian National owes a duty to all motorists and pedestrians who may cross the tracks to provide qualified supervisors to ensure an incident like this does not happen.
Second, the Canadian National employee assigned to make sure that the crossing's safety system was operating properly was not tested for drugs or alcohol after the accident. Although the accident may have been the result of a careless mistake, Canadian National should have immediately determined whether the signal operator was impaired when the incident occurred.
Third, the Canadian National crew was not abiding by the federal hours-of-service law, which restrict the hours that train and signal employees may work on a given shift. These laws were enacted to prevent exactly the kind of tragedy that resulted in this case due to exhaustion, carelessness, and/or distractedness. Canadian National violated these laws likely in an attempt to increase profits or finish a project ahead of schedule.
Finally, and perhaps most troubling, none of the workers at the crossing accepted any personal responsibility for the woman's death. The workers' refusal to accept responsibility demonstrates the same kind of headstrong attitude that likely contributed to the careless errors which ultimately caused the crash and the woman's death.