Railroad Grade Crossing Accidents – Who’s at fault?

Currently, there are over 200,000 railroad grade crossings in the United States.  Many commuters drive over railway crossings on a daily basis, never considering the potential dangers of doing so. While a train on motor-vehicle accident may seem unlikely at first, these crashes are relatively common in the US.

Railroad | Motor-vehicle Accident Statistics

Motor vehicle drivers and passengers are 40 times more likely to get killed in a railroad grade crossing accident than in a motor vehicle on motor vehicle accident.
There were 2,025 collisions at railroad grade crossings involving vehicles in 2016
265 people were killed in railroad grade crossings crashes in 2016
798 people were injured in railroad grade crossing collisions in 2016
A train-on-car crash happens approximately every three hours in the US

Some grade crossings may present more danger than others, depending on the types warning devices utilized, the condition and upkeep of the crossing and associated signals, and a variety of other factors. It is the railroad’s responsibility to provide motor vehicle drivers and train engineers with adequate warnings and maintenance of sight lines.

Who’s at fault?

Due to the potentially complex nature of the circumstances surrounding these accidents, determination of fault requires experience and understanding of the law and how railroads operate, and all aspects of the crash should be carefully investigated.

It is the railroads responsibility to maintain safe grade crossings, and provide safe working conditions for the train crews. Although railroad operations may have to comply with certain Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, states may also have their own rules and regulations regarding grade crossing clearances for vegetation, roadway construction and maintenance of crossings, all of which can come into play in the event of an accident.  Below are some examples of potential causes for rail-auto accidents that may give more insight into why these collisions happen:

Potential Causes – Railroad Crossing Accidents

  • Insufficiently Warning of an Oncoming Train

There are primarily two types of railroad crossings: Active warning devices, with flashing lights, and automatic gates at the crossing, or Passive Signs (unguarded crossings), consisting of pavement markings, stop/yield signs and/or crossbucks.

Active Warning Devices at Crossing

active crossing

Passive Sign


Despite the fact that active warning devices make crossings much safer, preventing crashes and injuries, passive signs or crossbucks are still heavily utilized.

  • Poor Crossing Signal/Warning Maintenance

Once a grade crossing is built by the railroad, it is still their responsibility to make sure that it, and the area around it, is properly maintained.  The rules governing this are set by the FRA and state government.  Common maintenance issues may include:

  • Gate not properly functioning at active grade crossing
  • Flashing lights not working at grade crossing
  • Crossbuck or warning sign not properly visible due to overgrowth or improper placement
  • Signs not clearly visible/legible due to weathering and wear
  • Failure to clear vegetation or other obstructions from the right of way which prevents the motorist and train crew from seeing each other

If you or anyone you know has been injured in a Railway crossing accident it is important to contact an experienced attorney who understands railroads and the laws governing them in order to successfully navigate the complex conditions involved.

Utilizing an attorney who understands railroad companies and has been to trial with them is important when considering representation.  An attorney who has experience in personal injury and FELA will be familiar with railroad tactics and legal maneuvering that may affect the outcome of your settlement or verdict.

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Groves Powers is a St. Louis law firm handling railroad crossing accidents with over 25 years of experience dealing with railroad negligence.  We have handled many cases against railroads in the US including BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern Railway, and Union Pacific Railroad.
If you choose to contact Groves Powers LLC, your consultation is free.  We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we obtain a settlement or verdict in your case.

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