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Liability Caused By Line of Sight and Visibility Issues

When two cars approach an intersection there are a number of determinations as to who has the right of way. Stop signs, lights, who got to the intersection first, and sometimes other factors, all play a role. When a car and a train approach an intersection, there are not a host of determining factors; the train always has the right of way. However, if a driver cannot be properly informed of a coming train, that changes things. In this article, we'll discuss how visibility issues can cause train accidents and how the railroad company may be liable.


Questions answered on this page:

  • Why is line of sight important at a rail crossing?
  • What are some concerns with visibility and line of sight issues?
  • Are railroads required to have warning signs at rail crossings?
  • How can a lawyer help if I was in a train accident at a railroad crossing?

Why Line of Sight is Important

Drivers must be able to tell if a train is approaching before they make their way through a rail crossing. If their ability to spot a train is compromised in any way, then one of the most basic tenets of safe rail crossing design has been violated.

Many railroad crossings have warning lights, bells, crossing arms, and whistles common to warn motorists that a train is approaching, but not all crossings have these warning systems in place. There are also some circumstances where a railroad crossing will have warning systems, but they may not be functional. If the warning system is not available or not functioning, then being able to see the train is the next best way to know when a train is coming. That, of course, requires a clear line of sight.

Line of Sight refers to the ability to see down a railroad track in either direction to determine if a train is coming, regardless of a traffic control device or warning systems. Railroad companies owe a duty to the public to ensure the tracks are positioned and maintained in a way that allows drivers have the ability to see an oncoming train. For example, if a driver's view of the tracks is obscured by overgrown trees, bushes, or any other debris, they may unknowingly cross into the path of an oncoming train. If an accident were to occur due to a lack of visibility, then the railroad company can be held accountable for the accident.

Common Line of Sight and Visibility Issues

If traffic control devices or warning signals are not present at a rail crossing, driver's are left to judge if a train is approaching before crossing the tracks. In these situations, there are three main concerns that can affect a driver's ability to see an oncoming train. The three main concerns are:

  • Foliage growing in and around the train tracks and railroad crossing: Many rail crossings are located in rural areas where trees, bushes, grass, and weeds can grow in excess on or around railroad tracks and rail crossings. If the surrounding foliage is not properly maintained and overgrown, it could shield a driver's view of an oncoming train. If a rail crossing isn't maintained and driver's frequently drive over those tracks, they could develop a careless attitude and not properly check for a train before crossing.
  • Angle of the roadway: In an ideal world, all rail crossings would be perpendicular to the roadway, meaning the rail crossing and roadway would make a cross shape, but this is not always the case. Sometimes a roadway will run parallel to a rail crossing that leads to an angled rail crossing. This is a concern because the railroad tracks are not angled within a normal driver's line of sight, which is usually side-to-side and front-to-back. If a train is approaching in a driver's blind spot and traffic warning signals are not present or not functioning, an accident could easily occur.
  • Steep, or inclined, roads leading up to the rail crossing: While many railroad crossing are flat and even, there are some instances where an inclined roadway will lead up to the rail crossing. This is a concern because it puts a driver's line of sight skyward instead of straight ahead, which can make it difficult for the driver to see if a train is approaching. It can also obstruct a driver's view of the roadway on the other side of the rail crossing.

Rules for Line of Sight at Rail Crossings

Whether or not the line of sight distance for a particular crossing is considered to be reasonable or not has typically been left to the courts to decide. Juries consider factors such as, how fast the train typically travels when passing through the area, the speed limit of the road on which the passenger car is traveling when it crosses the rail crossing, whether there is any curvature to the tracks, and the angle at which the road and the tracks intersect.

Typically speaking, juries will take all of those factors into consideration and determine whether or not the injured driver was afforded enough time to assess whether it was safe to cross the tracks or not. If the jury feels that the railroad created a scenario where an accident was bound to happen, then the railroad will be found liable.

In addition to line of sight down the track itself, there are also concerns over line of sight and visibility issues with respect to warning signs. After all, if foliage has blocked a sign, it is not capable of warning motorists.

Contact Our Train Accident Attorneys at Grossman Law Offices

If you were involved in an accident at a train crossing what should you do now? For your best chance at a successful recovery, hire an attorney experienced in these kinds of cases. Your attorney should immediately go out to the crossing and investigate. The investigation will memorialize the scene by taking pictures and video, taking measurements and making notes regarding the condition of the crossing and line-of-sight issues. The railroad company will send out their investigators to interview any and all witnesses and talk to the people in the neighborhood near the crossing. They may even go so far as to repair lighting, clear any debris, cut back trees, and trim bushes that are blocking the view of the tracks, and it could make it to prove your claim. Many attorneys do not understand the importance of quickly and properly investigating the scene of a train accident. The train accident attorneys of Grossman Law Offices, based in Dallas, TX, have the experience you need for these types of cases. If you need any help with your railroad accident case call us toll free at 1-855-326-0000.


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