Although it is only May, there have been a number of high-profile, fatal crashes between trains and automobiles this year. The United States has thousands of "grade crossings," where train tracks and roads intersect at ground level. While some are well marked and have high visibility, there are far too many crossings so poorly maintained and marked that fatal train accidents become highly likely.
This year's fatal train-automobile collisions in California and elsewhere have raised considerable awareness about the hazards of dangerous grade crossings. Unfortunately, such intersections are expensive to repair and upgrade, and many local governments either cannot or will not pay for the work to be done.
That being said, the recent announcement of a lawsuit may be a catalyst for change. In February, a driver in New York state was killed when her SUV was stopped on train tracks and was hit by an oncoming train. Six train passengers also died in the collision. The motorist's family recently filed a lawsuit alleging that the grade crossing was and is unsafe.
The law firm representing the woman's family has said that there were significant "line of sight" issues that made it difficult to see a train coming until it was too late. These included buildings near the tracks and "the interplay between the roadway and the railroad tracks." The crossing also lacks adequate signage and lighting, the lawsuit claims.
When the accident occurred, it was witnessed by a driver right behind the motorist who was struck and killed. He said he also didn't realize the train was coming until it was too late to react.
This lawsuit could be a catalyst for change because of the parties named as defendants. They include local governments, the state of New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. As much as it may cost to make necessary repairs and upgrades, governments and companies using the tracks may wish to pay those costs rather than face continued litigation filed by accidents victims and their families.
Source: ABC News, "Family of Motorist in Deadly Metro-North Crash Plans to Sue," Linsey Davis, May 5, 2015