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Fatal Colorado Train Crash Exposes Flaws in Railway System

A deadly train crash in Colorado is yet another unnecessary reminder of the threat posed by the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and shoddy rail safety system.

A California grandfather was killed in the October 15 accident in which a steel bridge collapsed onto Interstate 25 just outside Pueblo, the Associated Press reports. A total of 30 train cars carrying coal derailed as a result of the collapse, according to the news outlet.

Hundreds of tons of coal and smashed train cars littered the highway, causing I-25 to remain closed for four days as crews labored to clean up the mess. 

The train was said to be traveling at about 32 miles per hour, below the 45 miles per hour speed limit for trains in the area. Federal safety investigators reportedly are continuing to look into the crash, particularly whether maintenance and inspection practices caused the accident.

BNSF, the freight railroad company whose train derailed, said it inspected the 65-year-old bridge on the day of the accident. The company and the state of Colorado reportedly have long disputed who owns the bridge and therefore who is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. 

“Our teams regularly conduct extensive track, bridge, rail and weather event inspections across our network,” spokesperson Kendall Kirkham Sloan told the Associated Press. Sloan declined to say whether the track had undergone any previous repairs, according to the news outlet.

The man killed in the accident was a 60-year-old Southern California resident who was driving a semi-trailer under the bridge at the time of the collapse, according to news reports. The lifelong trucker reportedly leaves behind six children and 15 grandchildren.

“He was such a man of love, my daddy,” the man’s daughter told Fox21. “This is a tragedy nobody prepares for. We talk about the risk on the road for other drivers, but we don’t ever consider the damage that can be done to a rig.”

Faulty Rails Lead to Major Train Accidents

The tragic accident comes as train crashes across the country have increased concerns about safety on the tracks. That includes collisions in Ohio and Montana. 

Five tankers went off the tracks near East Palestine, Ohio, in February. Fearful that the tankers would explode, crews released vinyl chloride – a toxic chemical – into the air and then slowly burned it off. Residents, who were forced to flee their homes in the aftermath of the accident, now face concerns about hazardous substances seeping into the ground and polluting their breathing air.

Federal investigators earlier this year said that shoddy track conditions were to blame for a 2021 Amtrak passenger train crash in Montana that killed three people and injured nearly 50 others. 

The National Transportation Safety Board said the lack of seatbelts on the train and windows that were not strong enough to stop passengers from being ejected made the injuries worse. But the investigators primarily blamed wear and damage on the tracks, owned by BNSF, for the accident. 

They said the crash could have been prevented by timely inspection. The last walking inspection of the area had been done two years before the derailment. The inspector responsible had been overworked, logging 13 hours per day on the job on average over the prior four weeks, which the NTSB said likely prevented a more current inspection.

The Colorado bridge that collapsed in the recent crash was constructed in 1958. BNSF said it performed track infrastructure testing and visual inspections of the rail line in the area over the three months before the crash, including on the day of the accident.

“During track inspections – typically conducted by private companies, not government officials – crews look for cracks or other defects in the rails that could make them more susceptible to breaking,” Matthew Brown reports for the AP. “Repairs are scheduled based on the severity of the defect. That means even when problems are identified they might not be fixed immediately.”

Legal Rights for People Injured in Train Accidents

Anyone who is injured in a train derailment or other accident in Colorado has the right to seek compensation from those responsible, whether it is the train operator, the company responsible for railway maintenance or other parties. That is true whether you are directly injured in a collision or harmed by the release of hazardous material into the air, ground or water supply.

The money damages typically available in these cases include cash for medical bills, property damage, missed wages during recuperation and any long-term impact of the injuries on the person’s ability to earn a living. In a tragic situation in which a person dies in a train crash, certain family members can seek similar compensation by filing a wrongful death claim.

To obtain compensation after an accident, you have to prove liability. Most Denver personal injury cases are based on claims for negligence, a legal theory that holds people and entities responsible when they fail to live up to a specific “duty of care.” 

Railway companies and their employees generally have a duty to operate trains in a reasonably responsible way. They also have a responsibility to regularly inspect railways, do maintenance as needed and stop using tracks that are simply not safe. Railway companies are likely to be found negligent when they fail to live up to these duties, making them legally liable for any crashes that happen as a result.

If you have been injured in an accident, there is no reason to go it alone. An experienced personal injury lawyer can provide vital assistance by helping you understand your rights and options, investigating the accident and establishing a claim for money damages.

Speak with a Denver Accident Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in a train, truck, car, motorcycle or other collision in Colorado, a Denver accident attorney at Levine Law can help you understand your legal rights and options. 

Our lawyers are pleased to serve clients throughout Colorado, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins and Loveland. Call us at 303-333-8000 or contact us online to speak with a Denver accident attorney.

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