Steven M. Timko, Railroad Safety Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: A passenger on a northeastern suburban railroad was injured as the train abruptly departed the station. The conductor observed some unsupervised juveniles standing in one of the cars and “milling around” the train’s signal cord earlier in the trip. The signal cord is accessible by anyone, but used by train crewmembers to alert the engineer to start, stop, or back-up the train. This antiquated system is relied upon to start commuter trains from a station several times per trip, usually without incident. Two short blasts, or pulls, on the cord sounds a buzzer in the motorman’s cab and tells him to proceed. Signs are usually posted near the cord in the passenger car to notify passengers that the device is for the use by crew members only.
During a station stop, the motorman asked the conductor about errant “buzzes” on the system during movement. The conductor mentioned that juveniles were fooling around near the cord. At the next station, the conductor dismounted the train to assist passengers. As he was standing on the platform, some distance from the entrance of the second car in the train, a partially disabled passenger utilizing a crutch stepped onto the train as the motorman unexpectedly departed from the station. The passenger, holding on to the handrail in the car’s vestibule, fell to the floor compounding her previous foot injury. The train’s conductor, who was standing on the platform with a hand-held two-way radio, failed to notify the motorman that he had been left standing on the platform and that he had not given the signal to proceed. The conductor jumped on the next train out of the station to meet his train at the next stop. As the train departed that station, the conductor was advised by passengers of the injured passenger. Company Police and First Responders were called to meet the train and transport the injured passenger to the hospital. The juveniles claimed no involvement and were not charged.
Expert Analysis: A detailed review of the railroad’s Operating Rules, Safety Rules, Passenger Operations Manual and other company produced material was completed. It was determined that the plaintiff properly boarded the train in accordance with posted signs and expected a reasonable degree of protection from the train moving without warning. The operating manuals specified that crewmembers were to be at the location of the open doors and observe the entering and exiting passengers. The conductor admitted to observing the plaintiff walking toward the train with a crutch. The motorman was also partially at fault as he failed to open his cab window and look back to observe the train as it departed the station.
The conductor failed to comply with the Safety and Operating rules, as well as Special Instructions for Passenger Operations by failing to observe and assist passengers when required. He failed to post himself near the open doors to observe the passengers. Also, when he noticed the train departing, he failed to use his company-issued radio to contact the motorman to stop the train. He also failed to notify the train dispatcher that the train was operating without a full crew as required by Federal Regulations and should be stopped. Finally, after all this had transpired, he failed to notify the Train Dispatcher, Company Police or his immediate supervisor to advise them of the incident. He took no action whatsoever until advised of the passenger’s injuries.
Case Result: Case settled.
Steven M. Timko is a Railroad Safety Consultant with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or by phone at 215-659-2010.