Sometimes the most interesting things you find out about something is when you’ve finished writing the story.
Today I got an e-mail from someone who had read my story on the Union Pacific Railroad installing cameras in its locomotives to record railroad crossing and “trespasser” deaths and lesser accidents and near-misses.
The person who e-mailed me, whom I don’t know at all, so I present what he has to say with that caveat, said he’s done research for families of victims in legal cases vs the railroads:
It is important to consider that juries are made up of ordinary citizens and those citizens bring a certain mindset with them when the case is a RR crossing crash or a pedestrian injury / death on RR property. If the RR industry can instill in most citizens’ minds that “it’s always the driver’s fault”, then a lot of jurors will be on the RR’s side if called to serve in a civil trial.
His contention is that more often than you might think, there are problems with signals and train horns and we’re just conditioned to blame it on the deceased every time.
I have to admit it was easy for me to swallow that line when I did that story the other day.
I wrote back to the guy saying I could see his point, but I have witnessed people driving around crossing gates more than once, so I don’t think it’s necessarily propaganda that puts people in that frame of mind.
He presented me with some examples, including this one:
I investigated a crash between an Amtrak passenger train and a car in Charlotte, Michigan, on April 27, 2004. A mother and her 15 year-old daughter were killed. Many witnesses told the Charlotte PD that the bells weren’t ringing, the lights were not flashing and the gates were up at the instant of impact. I drove up there (6 hour trip) and discovered that Canadian National RR, owner of the track, ran a RAIL GRINDER up the track the day after the crash. A RAIL GRINDER polishes the rails by removing the rust. Rust (iron oxide) will NOT conduct electricity. Then, CN didn’t tell the Charlotte PD or the FRA that they had used the RAIL GRINDER. The witnesses saw the warning devices not working and that proved conclusively that the Track Circuit failed to detect the train. The reason was simple—rust on the rails preventing the electrical contact between the rails and wheels of the train. I reported my findings to the Charlotte PD and the Lansing State Journal. CN paid-off the family and got them to sign a confidentiality agreement. The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) ”investigated” the crash and, in their final report, claimed there was a “6 second warning.” That was a complete lie and a cover-up for CN. That’s so typical of what the FRA does.
Clearly, an e-mail out of the blue is not evidence of much of anything, but it did make me think about how easy it is to blame the victim in these cases.
Graphic from www.dmv.ca.gov.