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When Are Railroads Liable for Accidents Caused by a Train Failing to Warn With Its Horn?

If a train doesn't sound its horn before an accident is the railroad liable?

Railroad accidents can strike suddenly and with terrifying force and destruction. Thus, trains are equipped with horns that can be heard for miles around in an effort to avoid accidents by warning bystanders of the train's presence.

Sadly, accidents, injuries, and fatalities still occur because the engineers didn't use the horn properly. If you've been injured or someone you love has been killed in accident with a train, either on foot or in a car, because the engineer didn't use their horn according to federal regulations, then you may have the right to pursue compensation with a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit. So that you can be successful with this pursuit, we want you to better understand how the use of a train whistle can come into play in railroad accident lawsuits.

In this article, our attorneys will explain the laws that govern train horn usage and who bears liability when train engineers are negligent in not following safety regulations.

Questions answered in this article:

  • Who governs the safety role that horn usage serves?
  • When are engineers legally obligated to sound a warning horn?
  • How do I prove my train accident case?
  • How do I win my train accident case?

What are the rules governing horn usage?

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), all American locomotives are required to blast their horn when approaching a public grade crossing (any intersection between a railroad and a street or highway in which they're both on the same level) or when there is an emergency situation on the track, such as, a car or person stuck on the rails. The FRA rules are quite clear that this blast must last at least 15 seconds and not longer than 20 seconds, and should preferably two long, one short, and then one long blast.

Additionally, in Texas if a train is traveling faster than 45 mph, then the engineer is not required to blow the whistle until the locomotive is within one-quarter mile of the intersection; even if, this means the horn blast will not last at least 15 seconds. The train is also relieved from sounding the whistle if it stops and begins to move again within close proximity of the intersection.

However, just because the train with which you or your loved one had an accident silently approached a grade crossing doesn't mean you're necessarily going to be able to successfully pursue a lawsuit. Some communities are offended by the noise pollution caused by train horns, so they can apply for quiet zones, in which engineers are forbidden to blow their whistles as their train approaches an intersection. In order to qualify for a quiet zone, the crossings in the area must be equipped with gate systems to block traffic and alert pedestrians and cars to the danger of the coming train. Even in these zones, though, the engineer is required to blast the horn if there are workmen on the tracks. In an emergency situation the engineer also has the choice of using the horn or not at his discretion.

Was it the railroad's fault?

If the horn wasn't used properly by the engineer, proving it isn't too difficult. First, all Texas and American trains are outfitted with Electronic Data Recorders (EDRs) which keep records of the train's functions and operation, including when and how the horn was used. Thus, if the engineer failed to use the horn properly, this system can tell you.

In some cases, though, our attorneys have found that the EDR is inoperable after an accident (very curious since it could usually provide evidence to prove the negligence of an employee of the railroad). In this event, there are still ways to prove the EDR wasn't used as required. Have you ever heard a train whistle? They're loud - between 96 and 110 decibels. When the train's horn is used, everybody in the neighborhood hears it. If it wasn't used, then nobody does. If it wasn't used for a 15-second blast, then you will be able to find people to tell you so.

While the improper use of the train's horn is enough to demonstrate the negligence of the engineer, you have to do more to show the liability of the railroad. The railroad is also liable if it failed to properly train the engineer in the use of the horn. In some cases, an engineer might know that he's not supposed to use the horn at crossings in quiet zones, but he may not have been instructed that's he's allowed to use it for emergency situations there.

Also, the railroad is responsible for ensuring that the engineer is properly informed as to where quiet zones are, and the railroad must take action to review their employees' actions and punish those who do not comply. In other words, to avoid liability, a railroad must be reviewing EDR records of their employees before accidents occur due to the misuse of the horn. If an employee wasn't using the horn as required before an accident happened and someone got hurt, then the railroad has a responsibility to root out this problem and admonish or punish the engineer before he makes a mistake that injures someone.

We've been fighting against train company negligence for over 25 years, we can help.

If you have been injured by a train that didn't properly use its horn, then you're likely going to need the assistance of an experienced train accident attorney to pursue legal action against the railroad. You need someone who knows how to investigate the accident scene and locate eye witnesses, as well as, as an advocate who has partnered with expert witnesses who can interpret the evidence found and help convince the court of the liability of the railroad company.

At Grossman Law Offices, we have the experience you need and we can help. Call us now for a free consultation at 1-855-326-0000 (toll free) if you'd like to discuss more about how the usage of the train's horn could affect your case. We're also happy to answer your questions about any facet of a personal injury or wrongful death case.

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