"Operation Lifesaver" in New York Times' Crosshair

Discussion related to railroads/trains that show up in TV shows, commercials, movies, literature (books, poems and more), songs, the Internet, and more... Also includes discussion of well-known figures in the railroad industry or the rail enthusiast hobby.

Moderator: Aa3rt

Gilbert B Norman
Posts: 14219
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 6:52 am
Location: Clarendon Hills, IL (BNSF Chicago Sub; MP 18.71)

"Operation Lifesaver" in New York Times' Crosshair

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Sun Nov 14, 2004 8:22 am

In its continuing railroad safety investigative reports, The New York Times has the industry sponsored rail safety program "Operation Lifesaver" under scrutiny.

The Times' report contends, "Operation Lifesaver's' impetus is that all grade x-ing incidents are the fault of the motorist or pedestrian. While likely this is 90% correct, there have been documented incidents of malfuncitioning x-ing signals, including industry "cover ups", trains speeding or failing to sound horns in accordance with the Book of Rules and local ordinances, and failure to control vegatation at X-ings.

But I think most appropriate on my part would be a "we report you decide" position:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/national/14rail.html
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:05 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Gilbert B Norman
Posts: 14219
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 6:52 am
Location: Clarendon Hills, IL (BNSF Chicago Sub; MP 18.71)

Rail Safety on TV Tonight Nov 14

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Sun Nov 14, 2004 8:33 am

The Discovery Times Channel will air a rail safety documentary Sunday November 14 at 9PM ET.

No doubt the production will draw from the material presented in The New York Times investigative series.

If you have other things on the agenda this evening, there are frequent reruns of the material. Check www.discovery.com to find a timing more convenient if need be.

JoeG

Post by JoeG » Sun Nov 14, 2004 9:54 am

I'd like to quote a short excerpt from the article:
"The board of directors openly acknowledged an aversion to the installation of lights and gates because of the maintenance cost for those devices," Ms. Osina said in her 2000 court statement. The government pays for the installation of lights and gates at crossings, but railroads must keep them working properly.
The "Board of Directors" in the quote is the board of Operation Lifesaver.
I would agree with Operation Lifesaver that most grade crossing accidents are caused by stupid drivers. But, some are not. There is a parallel here to the old safety campaigns for drivers, that placed all the responsibility for accidents on drivers. The car companies long fought seat belts, and then air bags, because they thought these would be bad for car sales.

Irish Chieftain

Post by Irish Chieftain » Sun Nov 14, 2004 10:32 am

Is there any clear instance where a grade crossing accident is not truly the driver's fault? Trains still blow crossing signals on their horn—and have drivers not been taught nowadays that once you hear that horn, stay clear of the crossing, and get off the tracks if you happen to be in the crossing? (To be frank, I don't recall that instruction in modern driver manuals...)

No system is infallible, but at least a good system has many fail-safes. Has there not been a system where if gates at a gated crossing fail to lower, a signal is sent to the engineer indicating such, and to dispatching as well? It'd be better if the train simply was able to stop at a damaged-gate crossing and send out a flagman...

JoeG

Post by JoeG » Sun Nov 14, 2004 12:00 pm

If crossings have working gates, flashers and bells, only an idiot would try to drive around the gates. However, the article points out that railroads are resistant to installing these warning devices. Also, previous articles in this series have shown instances where the railroads have failed to clear vegetation that impaired sight lines of motorists. My guess is that with air conditioned cars and loud music, even the effectiveness of locomotive horns is vitiated.
Maybe the railroads should be paid for the maintenance of grade-crossing warning devices, and then they would be more willing to have them installed. (Now, some government entity pays for installation of the warning devices but the RR pays for maintenance.)

LCJ

Post by LCJ » Sun Nov 14, 2004 1:52 pm

A large part of the controversy centers around the use of OL media campaigns and activities that coincide with court cases for crossing accidents.

This seems to be a blatant attempt by the organization to sway public and judicial opinion toward the interests of the railroads that support OL financially.

(Note: edited for spelling errors only!)
Last edited by LCJ on Sun Nov 14, 2004 2:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Gilbert B Norman
Posts: 14219
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 6:52 am
Location: Clarendon Hills, IL (BNSF Chicago Sub; MP 18.71)

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Sun Nov 14, 2004 2:18 pm

"Trial by Media" is simply part of the landscape today, Mr. LCJ.

OJ?, Scott?, Michael?, Kobe?

But I do note your point that it is not in the industry's interest to have any "evidence" shared with the public by the "defense" to influence anybody's opinion.

But never a jury, after all, they are "lady justice", eh?????

Lest we forget the line of script from the movie "Anatomy of a Murder" when Ben Gazzara says to Jimmy Stewart "how can the jury disregard what they just heard?; Stewart; "they can't".
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Sun Nov 14, 2004 3:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

LCJ

Post by LCJ » Sun Nov 14, 2004 2:56 pm

Gilbert B Norman wrote:But I do note your point that it is not in the industry's interest to have any "evidence" shared with the public by the "defense" to influence anybody's opinion.
Unfortunately, it does seem to be in the industry's interest to pollute the potential jury pool with the predisposition that crossing accidents are all the result of driver error, and that railroads have diminished responsibility for preventing crossing accidents.

The reporter's point is that this may poorly serve the public interest for safety, and tend to unfairly protect railroads from unfavorable verdicts.

I guess this goes along with the whole "ends justifiy the means" scenario that's so much a part of the political and industrial landscape these days.

John_Perkowski
Posts: 4926
Joined: Wed Mar 17, 2004 5:12 pm
Location: Off the Q main near Parkville MO

Post by John_Perkowski » Sun Nov 14, 2004 6:06 pm

LCJ wrote: I guess this goes along with the whole "ends justifiy the means" scenario that's so much a part of the political and industrial landscape these days.
There's the rub. The end, in only the rarest of cases, justifies the means. The most recent case I know of will be 60 years old next summer. The end was saving Allied and Japanese lives in the conquering of the Home Islands.

The means were called "Little Boy" and "Fat Man."

Even there, look at the moral consequences.

On a personal level, I do believe Mr Truman was right. My father was imprisoned in sight of Nagasaki, providing slave labor to the Mitsui Mining Company.

So, bottom line: We keep working Operation Lifesaver, as fans, as advocates, as employees. Human life is too important to be impaled on the front end of an SD.

John Perkowski

CNJ

Post by CNJ » Sun Nov 14, 2004 8:26 pm

Here is what you will find in the Texas Drivers Manual:

"Situation 10—Railroad grade crossings.—Texas law requires obedience to a signal indicating approach of a train. Whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing, the driver of such vehicle shall stop within fifty (50) feet but not less than fifteen (15) feet from the nearest rail ofsuch railroad if:
1. A clearly visible railroad signal warns of the approach of a train;
2. A crossing gate is lowered or a human flagman warns of the approach
or passage of a railroad train;
3. The driver is required to stop by other law, a rule adopted under a
statute, an official traffic-control device or a traffic-control signal;
4. A railroad engine approaching within approximately fifteen hundred(1,500) feet of the highway crossing emits a signal audible from such distance and such engine by reason of its speed or nearness to such crossing is an immediate hazard; or
5. An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and in hazardous proximityto such crossing.
6. A person who fails to obey the law regarding railroad grade crossings is
subject to a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $200.
The driver of a vehicle required to stop at a railroad grade crossing as provided by this law shall remain stopped until the driver is permitted to proceed and it is safe to proceed.
ADDITIONAL SAFE DRIVING PROCEDURES AT RAILROAD CROSSINGS ARE:
1. If a railroad crossing is marked only with a crossbuck sign - reduce
speed, look both ways, and listen for audible signal whistle. If a train is
approaching - STOP; if not, proceed only upon exercising due care.
2. If red lights are flashing at a railroad crossing - STOP. If a train is
approaching, remain stopped until the train passes by and the lights stop
flashing.
3. If railroad crossing arms have been lowered - STOP. You must wait until the train has passed and the gates are raised.
4. Never stop on tracks. If your car stalls on the tracks and you cannot
restart it, get out and try to push it off the tracks. If you cannot push it off the tracks, get help. If a train is approaching and your vehicle is stalled, get out quickly and get clear of the tracks. Run in the direction from which the train is approaching to avoid flying debris, staying clear of the tracks.
5. Be sure all tracks are clear before you proceed across. There may be
two or more sets of tracks. One train could be blocking the view of another.
6. Remember, trains do not and cannot stop at crossings - they always
have the right-of-way.
7. Audible signals or whistles may be difficult to hear when approaching
railroad crossings. It is suggested that you roll your window down, turn your radio down, and listen carefully.
8. If you encounter a railroad grade crossing signal problem, please call the Texas Department of Public Safety Headquarters Communications Center in Austin (toll-free number is 1-800-772-7677) or your local police departmentor county sheriffs’ office. Each railroad crossing signal has an identifying number. Please note the number and be ready to provide it when reporting a problem."

matthewsaggie
Posts: 470
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: Matthews NC

Post by matthewsaggie » Sun Nov 14, 2004 9:20 pm

JoeG wrote:If crossings have working gates, flashers and bells, only an idiot would try to drive around the gates. However, the article points out that railroads are resistant to installing these warning devices. Also, previous articles in this series have shown instances where the railroads have failed to clear vegetation that impaired sight lines of motorists. My guess is that with air conditioned cars and loud music, even the effectiveness of locomotive horns is vitiated.
Maybe the railroads should be paid for the maintenance of grade-crossing warning devices, and then they would be more willing to have them installed. (Now, some government entity pays for installation of the warning devices but the RR pays for maintenance.)
The governmental units (federal, state and local) generally pay 90% of the installation cost and the RR pays 10%- their share is about $10,000-$15,000 for an average crossing. Maintenance is allocated on a 50/50 basis between the govt that owns the road and the RR. In my case with CSX I pay them amost $1,800 per year per crossing for maintenance.

R. Messera
Public Works Director
Matthews, NC

User avatar
2nd trick op
Posts: 1589
Joined: Mon May 31, 2004 7:40 pm
Location: Nescopeck, PA ..... NS Sunbury Line MP 715

Couple of Thoughts

Post by 2nd trick op » Mon Nov 15, 2004 1:27 am

Well before 9/11/01, back around the winter of 1994/95, I submitted a letter to both Operation Lifesaver and Senators Specter (R-PA) and Exon(D-NE) calling their attention to a TRAINS Turntable of that period recommending the recruitment of suitably-vetted and -credentialed railfans as a safety auxillary. Needles to say, it didn't get very far, though I do recall a reply signed by Ms. Osina.

In general, I found the treatment of a all parties by the Times to be fair. However, one need only spend half-an-hour listening to local news or locally-originated programming on just about any televison station in the country to notice that torts are an industry in themselves, and few institutuions are viewed by the public and the ambulance-chasers as a larger and more sustainable source of funds than the railroads.

Hadn't considered the scenario of the "audiot" with his "music" turned up so loud as to be unable to hear an approaching train.
What a revoltin' development this is! (William Bendix)

C&O 15
Posts: 188
Joined: Fri Apr 16, 2004 12:15 pm
Location: Alabama

Post by C&O 15 » Mon Nov 15, 2004 10:19 am

Maybe the railroads should be paid for the maintenance of grade-crossing warning devices, and then they would be more willing to have them installed. (Now, some government entity pays for installation of the warning devices but the RR pays for maintenance.)
Or why not take it a step further. The government could take complete ownership of all traffic control devices at railroad crossings, including bearing 100% of the cost of installation and maintenance. Railroads could then be legally absolved of any responsibility in the case of allegedly faulty warning equipment. Government could also take responsibility for keeping the right-of-way sufficiently clear to allow good visibility.

Before you dismiss this as crazy, consider ordinary road intersections. Suppose high weeds make it hard to see oncoming traffic at an intersection and you have a wreck. Or a stop sign which should be there is missing. Who do you sue? Nobody! Thanks to "sovereign immunity" it's virtually impossible to sue the owner, designer, or builder of a public road, i.e. the government. Why not extend the concept to railroad crossings by making all protective devices publicly owned? Railroads could still be held liable if they operated their trains improperly by exceeding the authorized speed or failing to blow the horn where required.

Ken W2KB
Posts: 5776
Joined: Thu Mar 11, 2004 9:27 pm
Location: Lebanon Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey & Tiverton, RI USA

Post by Ken W2KB » Mon Nov 15, 2004 11:15 am

In New Jersey, soverign immunity protects the government from suits for "discretionary acts," i.e., harm allegedly resulting from decisions, but not against harm arising from "ministerial acts," e.g., carrying out those decisions. So, in the grade crossing example, the State would be protected against suits alleging that the protection it decided to install was not appropriate, but the State could be sued for failure to properly installor or maintain the equipment properly resulting in an accident.

I believe that the NJ law on sovereign immunity is typical, though states can and do vary in this regard.
~Ken :: Fairmont ex-UP/MP C436 MT-14M1 ::
Black River Railroad Historical Trust :: [/url]

C&O 15
Posts: 188
Joined: Fri Apr 16, 2004 12:15 pm
Location: Alabama

Post by C&O 15 » Mon Nov 15, 2004 11:23 am

I am not a lawyer, so I will certainly defer to those who know more about sovereign immunity than I do. In any event, my proposal would move liability (along with costs of installation and maintenance) away from the railroads and onto the state. Maybe you could still sue the state for failure to maintain signals, but you couldn't sue the railroad.

Return to “Books, Magazines, Music, TV, and Movies, and other Media”