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Long Trains Worry Communities and Rail Regulators

Railroad crossing with long train

Anyone who has sat in a car on Granby Street in Norfolk and waited for a slow-moving freight train to clear a grade crossing will be familiar with the frustration caused by long trains.

Although running late for work might get you in trouble, research suggests that long trains can cause more serious issues if they impede first responders from reaching patients in trouble or accident victims. Rail regulators have also raised safety concerns over longer trains.

Last month, the Washington Post revealed how a man suffered a stroke but a long train blocked a crossing thus preventing paramedics from reaching him for over an hour. When people suffer strokes or heart attacks every second counts.

The issue of trains blocking crossings can be particularly serious in rural communities. In Leggett, Texas, a tiny community with under 150 residents, citizens have complained for years that trains are blocking the only exit and entry road to the community, the Post reported.

They have warned of the potential for a greater catastrophe, citing the Ohio town of East Palestine where a toxic train derailment unfolded in February.

The complaints of residents gained new urgency in 2021 when a baby died in the town. His mother found the 3-month-old unresponsive, according to reports.  It took about 30 minutes for paramedics to reach K’Twon Franklin.

K’Twon’s mother later filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad. She claimed trains were routinely blocking the Glover Road intersection. She said a long train prevented paramedics from reaching her child, thereby causing his death. Union Pacific said it is working to resolve problems at intersections in Leggett and other communities.

The problems caused by long freight trains appear to be more widespread and pervasive than it appears. Since 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration has allowed citizens to report issues via a digital portal.

The Washington Post noted 1,400 complaints have been filed to date in 2023. Although most instances resulted in little more than frustration, long trains can exacerbate emergencies. A man in Tennessee died of a medical emergency when ambulance crews could not reach him soon enough because of a train. A man in Oklahoma died of a heart attack when first responders were held up at the entrance to his street by a train.

Industry figures reveal trains are getting longer. Although officials say this improves safety and reduces the number of derailments, regulators are looking again at longer trains in the wake of the East Palestine spill.

In its latest safety advisory issued in April, the Federal Railroad Administration stopped short of recommending railroads limit the size of trains that can stretch up to two miles long. However, they suggested precautions to make sure engineers know how to handle these trains, The Hill reported.

Some members of Congress and state lawmakers are asking for restrictions on the length of trains after the incident in East Palestine.

The Federal Railroad Administration cited three derailments involving trains over 12,250 feet (3,734 meters) long. It said train length appeared to be a factor in the accidents.

“FRA believes these incidents demonstrate the need for railroads and railroad employees to be particularly mindful of the complexities of operating longer trains,” the agency said.

As Virginia-based railroad injury lawyers, we are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety record of big railroads such as Norfolk-Southern. Long trains may be posing a danger to communities and railroad workers. Please contact our railroad accident lawyers if you have suffered an injury due to the fault of a railroad company. Call us for a free consultation at (757) 333-3333.

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