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CED’s Expertise in Investigating Railroad Accidents

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Massive trains move very fast and have sophisticated machinery onboard.  Although their size allows them to carry all kinds of freight and numerous passengers, the tradeoff is additional staff and a myriad of maintenance requirements.  This complexity leads to claims on a routine basis. Engineering experts find themselves investigating accidents, failures, and claims associated with railroad personnel including passengers, crew, and maintenance staff.

Engineering experts are also retained to investigate personal injury claims by employees of the railroad.  The Federal Employees Labor Act (FELA) allows railroad employees to sue their employer.  Biomechanical engineering experts evaluate injuries sustained and quantify the actions/forces that caused the accident.  Occasionally, personal injury is sustained by material failure such as steps and hand rails giving way. For instance, a metallurgical expert may analyze a failed bolt used to secure a step and determine that the failure was caused by defective material, overloading, or excessive tightening of the bolt.

Oftentimes during a failure analysis, forensic engineering experts consider human factors that contributed to accidents involving maintenance staff.  Design of machinery, removal of guards, lack of interlock devices, or operator error may be contributing factors to maintenance accidents. During investigation of these accidents, mechanical engineers and human factors experts consider machine design issues, maintenance records, and operator tasking to determine the root cause of an accident.

To help validate slip and fall accidents, engineering experts utilize the English XL slip meter.  This tool quantifies the slip resistance of hard surfaces such as railcar and station flooring, providing results that are admissible in court.

Of course, the most dramatic cases are railroad crossing accidents and collisions between trains. Crossing accidents with pedestrians and vehicles often involve factors of visibility, safe speed, and perception-reaction time.

A complete accident reconstruction strives to understand the actions of all involved parties and contributing factors.  The scope of the investigation often requires multi-disciplinary talents. Although a mechanical engineer may determine the speed of a vehicle before impact, a structural engineer would be called in to evaluate the worthiness of a roadway bridge after impact by a train or a railway bridge that was struck by another moving asset such as a tug and/or barge. Finally, the structural integrity of the railroad track itself may require a material science expert while the underlying rail support would be evaluated by a civil/structural engineer.

Trains are massive, moving power-plants which require a complex support structure to operate.  They move across various geographies, through any weather, while interacting with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.   Thus, railroad accidents can oftentimes be complex, involving numerous contributing factors. To best understand how an engineering expert can support your claim/case, contact a CED office.

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