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November 23, 2009

Fort Lauderdale, Florida Train Accident Kills Two, Critically Injures Another

A South Florida Tri-Rail train crashed into a car on Thursday at the Commercial Boulevard crossing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The crossing is located between Commercial Boulevard's extremely busy intersections with Powerline Road and Interstate 95.  According to reports, the car stopped on the tracks as the crossing arms lowered around the vehicle.   The driver attempted to reverse off the tracks, but was prevented by the crossing arms.  The driver then tried to pull forward out of the path of the train, but did so too late and was dragged some 60 feet after the train impacted the side of the vehicle.  Two people were thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene, while a third occupant was taken a local hospital for treatment of the severe injuries sustained after the train accident.

Although the accident is still under investigation, reports claim that witnesses at the scene told investigators that warning lights were flashing at the time of the accident.  The Miami-Herald reported that traffic often backs up onto the tracks at the Commercial Boulevard crossing especially during rush hour.  According to the report, there have been seven accidents at this specific crossing which resulted in three deaths and two injuries since 1989 despite unsuccessful or unimplemented experimental safety measures including cameras to warn conductors of vehicles in the crossings.  Statewide in 2007, there were 90 accidents at rail-road crossings between trains and cars or pedestrians that resulted in 20 fatalities and 63 injuries in Florida according to the U.S. Department of Transportation State Transportation Statistics.

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June 29, 2009

Florida Train Accidents and Injuries

The recent tragic train accident in Washington, D.C., has brought the spotlight once again on the railroad industry and the safety of this mode of transportation. The multi-train accident that killed nine passengers and injured approximately 80 people has once again raised questions of aging equipment and insufficient safety technology. These concerns are not isolated to the nation's capital, but rather concerns and criticisms have reverberated throughout the states, including Florida.

Florida residents are not immune from train accidents and injuries. In 2008, one man died and another was injured after their truck became stuck on the railroad tracks and they were struck by an Amtrak train in Seminole County, Florida. In 2007, two train accidents occurred within a few miles of one another just days apart. The first accident occurred in Lakeland, Florida, after the driver crossed the railway barrier and the car was struck by an Amtrak train killing the four occupants of the car. The second occurred in Plant City, Florida, when a passenger train collided with a container truck killing the driver. In 2002, four people were killed and 142 injured after an auto train derailed in Crescent City, Florida, after encountering a heat-induced buckle in the track.

These accidents are just a sampling of the numerous railway accidents in Florida each year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 342 rail accidents or incidents with 38 fatalities and 185 injuries in Florida attributed to freight trains, Amtrak trains, and other commuter trains in 2006. That same year, there were 118 incidents or accidents including 10 fatalities and 34 injuries at highway rail crossings.

In order to reduce the number of train accidents in Florida and throughout the nation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended updating outdated trains that lack appropriate safety features and crush zones. Organizations such as Operation Lifesaver stress educational programs that emphasize the importance of track safety and avoidance amongst pedestrians and automobile drivers. The Federal Railroad Administration touts safety devices such as positive train control (PTC) that helps prevent train-to-train collisions and overspeed derailments, electronically controlled pneumatic brakes for freight trains, and a national inspection plan to oversee the nation's railway system.

Unfortunately, many of these recommendations are often ignored by rail carriers.  In order to prevent future train accidents and reduce train accident injuries and deaths, it is important for rail carriers to heed the safety warnings of various agencies and implement the suggested safety features and technological updates.

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