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Railroad Accidents

Railroad Accidents

Train accidents aren’t as common as other transportation accidents, which perhaps is why they aren’t viewed as a major threat. Although railroads aren’t used as often as they were in centuries past, they still remain quite active. In fact, trains are still quite common in the US – particularly subways, commuter trains, trams, etc. In the United States alone, there are approximately 600 railroads, hundreds of thousands of miles of tracks, and over 209,000 railroad crossings. Unfortunately, when train accidents happen, they often result in serious injuries and fatalities. When this happens, obtaining compensation from the company or individual responsible can be more challenging than it should be. Nobody wants to be held liable for such a tragic accident, and their insurance company will fight tooth and nail to deny or reduce your benefits. Whether you were injured while working for a railroad company or you’re a train passenger hurt in a wreck, we encourage you to contact the experienced train accident lawyers.

Train Accident Statistics

• According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2014 there were 11,896 train accidents at railroad crossings, resulting in 804 fatalities and thousands of injuries over the course of that year.
• Trains are estimated to kill 1 person every 100 minutes. Each year nearly 1,000 people are killed in train related accidents.
• More than half of all railroad accidents occur at unprotected crossings.
• More than 80 percent of crossings lack adequate warning devices such as lights and gates.
• Occupants of vehicles that collide with a train are 40 times more likely to die than if they had collided with another vehicle of comparable size.
• Every two weeks a train carrying hazardous materials derails in the United States.

Worst Accidents in Utah History

An accident is one of the worst experiences of a person’s life. From regular fender benders to a crash on the Frontrunner, accidents can cause immense trauma. Although, after an accident, you never want to hear someone say, “It could have been worse.” This observation is usually true. The worst accident is probably not going to happen to you. However, this does not discount your pain. A car accident can seriously injure you and those you love. Some accidents are far worse than others. The following is a list of some of the worst disasters we have encountered. These accidents do not necessarily have the most massive numbers of deaths, but instead are those that have had lasting impact or accidents that officials have dubbed, “the worst” they have ever seen.

Bagley Train Wreck, the Great Salt Lake 1944

In 1944, a Pullman car passenger train was passing west of Ogden by the Great Salt Lake full of soldiers returning home after serving in World War II. Around 6 a.m. on December 31, two westbound trains crashed near Promontory point. The Standard-Examiner headline for the day following the crash read, “Pacific Limited Crash claims 48 lives. According to the article, a “[r]exporter [found] tragic horror at wreck scene” and that the wreck reminded one victim of war because “screams, moans rend the air at the wreck scene.” The Deseret News reported that veteran railroad workers were left in tears as they saw the fiery wreck. They later described the incident as “the worst wreck they had seen in all their days on the tracks.” Not only were there 48 deaths, but also a reported 79 were injured. Among those that were killed were 35 military personnel and nine railroad workers. According to the article in the Standard-Examiner, this wreck was the worst railroad disaster in the Intermountain area. As time passed, the total dead rose to 50 from injuries. Reports say that the accident came about as a thick fog obscured the vision of a mail express train.

The mail express did not slow its speed for a caution sign and crashed into the rear of a Pullman car passenger train at 60 miles per hour. The passenger train had slowed down to 18 miles per hour for a freight train ahead of it with mechanical problems. Conflicting accounts say that the engineer of the mail train had a heart attack and died a few moments before the accident. As the trains collided, seven rail cars were thrown from the wooden trestles and landed in the shallow mud of the Great Salt Lake. The article states that the wreck scattered debris stretched a half-mile. Luckily, the Pullman passenger car had two medical cars, so Medical Corps members were able to help those who had been injured by the violent crash. If the medical professionals had not been there, the victims would have had to wait for the arrival of another train from Ogden. To this day, the rusting remains of the wreck can be seen by the Great Salt Lake.

Tragic Train/Bus Collision, 1938

On December 1, 1938, a Jordan High School-bound school bus was driving through a thick winter storm. As the bus approached the railroad crossing at 10200 South and 400 West, the driver pulled to a stop to check the tracks for any approaching trains. Because of a thick fog which clouded the man’s view, he failed to see the 80-plus car train coming fast from Denver. The bus slowly crept over the tracks. The train operator managed to see the bus on the tracks and quickly pulled the emergency brake, however, his action failed to prevent the accident. The resulting accident was devastating. According to an article in the Deseret News, “the collision claimed the lives of 23 children and the bus driver.” Only 15 people survived. Those who survived dealt with a life full of “serious physical injuries and emotional scars.” This accident eventually prompted the railroad crossing laws and mechanical crossing arms along with other national regulations which still are in place today. For example, today, school buses are still required to stop at all train tracks and also open their doors to ensure there are not any trains barreling down the tracks. Later, in 2013, the city of South Jordan erected a memorial at Heritage Park on 10778 S. Redwood Road commemorating the 75th anniversary of the event.

30 Car Pileups, 2018

This accident is far more recent. We chose this accident for the sheer number of vehicles involved, not because of the severity of the injuries, although one individual did pass away. The massive vehicle pileup occurred on March 26. Around 7:20 a.m., snow began to fall near Echo Junction. Somewhere along mile marker 172, sheets of ice had frozen on the road. Drivers were speeding along a little too fast given the circumstances when suddenly, the cars hit the ice, they all began to slide. This chain reaction resulted in a crash involving 30 different vehicles, including 15 tractor trailers. According to an article on KSL’s website, Lt. Harley Watkins told news reporters, “It was a very significant crash. In 18 years, this is one of the worst [he had] seen.” This accident involved significant property damage.

Hole-in-the-Rock Accident, 1963

In 1963, a cattle-truck filled with over 40 Boy Scouts and leaders from the Provo-area was driving along a dusty road in Southern Utah near Escalante. The truck slowly crept up a steep 8 percent grade hill. The truck was in high gear, and as the driver attempted to shift down, however, the clutch never engaged. He tried to punch the brake, but the truck didn’t respond. The truck suddenly began to roll backward for 124 feet, over an embankment and crashed to the bottom of a 35-foot steep ravine. The accident claimed the lives of 12 of the Scouts. A 13th victim passed away the next day in a hospital in Panguitch. Another 35 people were seriously injured. The Deseret News reported that the leaders had packed 40 plus people into a 2.5-ton cattle truck as they were traveling to the Hole-in-the-Rock. Apparently, there would be another 50 boaters that would meet them there for a Colorado River run. The families and friends of those who passed away put together a monument on the accident’s 30th anniversary in 1993.

Worst Bear Lake Boat Accident, 2015

In June of 2015, a group of seven people was boating on Bear Lake roughly six miles north of the marina when a sudden storm arose. Severe winds began to stir up six to ten-foot waves. The boat was designed for water skiing and wakeboarding, so it sat lower in the water. The lower design caused the boat to capsize because of the rough waves. The accident killed four people and injured three others as the group plunged into the 53-degree waters. One of the problems of this wreck is the Utah State Park rangers did not hear about the accident for a while. After hearing about the accident, it took the rangers a few hours to locate the group because of the bad weather. Because of this, the sheriff reported that members in the group were in the water for over five hours. According to an article on Fox 13’s website, Rich County Sheriff Dale Stacey told reporters, “This is the single worst tragedy that I have seen on this lake.” Richard Droesbeke, the park manager said the victims were located and found in groups within the vicinity of the capsized boat. Two of the girls had attempted to swim to shore. Those two were found about a mile close to shore. Once on shore, officials performed CPR on the victims, and they were taken in medical helicopter sot Salt Lake City hospitals.

Train Accident Law

Train accident laws seek to prevent injuries and death. In most cases they have worked pretty well. From 2011-2012, Utah’s Frontrunner only injured 5 people and killed 2. However, Trax has proven more dangerous. From 2007 to 2010, Trax had 94 accidents, 7 of which were fatal. There are also multiple accidents caused by private train companies. While not completely comparable, this is still significantly lower than the 200 fatalities caused by car accidents in just 2012. While the chance of being injured by a train is still small, the devastation is significant and the chances are increasing. It is still possible that you or a loved one could be injured by a train or while in it. You need to know how to move forward despite all the problems caused by the accident.

Responsibilities of Train Companies

Train companies are responsible to ensure that they reasonable avoid accidents. The Utah courts have held them responsible for train crossings that are abnormally dangerous. This includes having crossings in a high traffic area or allowing plants to block the view of their tracks. However, the company is not responsible for setting up and maintaining warning signals. Instead, Utah train accident laws place that job with the Utah Department of Transportation. However, this does not remove all responsibility from the company. They still have a reasonable duty of care toward anyone near their train, especially at crossings.

Train drivers also have very specific responsibilities that they must follow. They cannot block the use of a road for longer than 5 minutes unless under special circumstances. These include following traffic signals, avoiding hitting anything, or when there is no traffic. They only need to keep a lookout for potential dangers where they would expect people to be. This mostly means at railroad crossings. Since it would be nearly impossible to always be able to stop fast enough at other times, they are not responsible in other circumstances. Also, they only have a responsibility to brake when they know that someone is most likely going to get hurt if they don’t.

Responsibilities of Drivers

Utah train accident laws apply to many different types of drivers. If they break these laws, then they might put you or your loved ones in danger.

Though common sense, Utah has made some laws to prevent car drivers from causing an accident with a train. In general, drivers must look and listen to see if a train is coming before crossing. After the train warning gates have closed, it is illegal to cross the train tracks. Similarly, a driver must stop at least 15 feet away from the railroad tracks and can’t go forward if there are any warning signals or a train is “plainly visible.” What if the warning signal goes off, but it appears to be a false alarm? Utah train accident laws say that a driver can go through after stopping if:
• There is no gate or barrier,
• The driver can see the train tracks for a mile in either direction,
• “There is no evidence of an approaching train,” and
• The driver can cross safely.
However, drivers cannot go around, through, or under a gate or barrier even if the signal is faulty. They also cannot cause another vehicle or person to go onto the tracks or not be able to get off of them. Drivers also cannot go over the tracks unless they can get through without stopping. So when traffic backs up, wait behind where the gate would go until you can pull forward and stop off the tracks. In fact, they cannot even park their vehicle within 50 feet of the tracks unless they are unloading something.


People walking near a railroad track need to be smart. Utah train accident laws dictate what this means. They cannot cross the tracks anytime the warning signals are going off. They also cannot stand inside the gate even if they are not on the actual tracks.

School Bus Drivers

School bus drivers are usually held to a higher standard than the typical driver because there are children on their bus. For example, Utah train accident laws state that school bus drivers need to follow their district policy when approaching a train track. They are also required to report any faulty warning signals to their supervisor.

Semi-Truck Drivers

Semi-Truck drivers also have a higher standard than the normal driver. Typically, when they approach train tracks without a gate, they have to stop 15 feet beforehand. They cannot cross unless they can do so safely. This includes making sure that they can get all the way through when traffic is backed up. Other laws apply to special vehicles like those in construction.

How quickly should I seek legal help if I was injured in a train accident?
Quickly. Utah has a standard four year window for a lawsuit to be filed for personal injuries. While it is important for you to take time to grieve and deal with the injuries or death, waiting too long may cause you even more suffering. After this window closes, no legal action can be taken. This means that you cannot hold the guilty party responsible for the suffering they have caused or deter them from doing it again. Because of how long it takes to find all the evidence and submit all the documents, don’t delay in getting help. If you or a loved one has been injured in a train accident, call and seek the help of an Attorney.

Train Accident Lawyer Free Consultation

When you need legal help with a train or railroad accident in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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