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| Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn

Per the Federal Railroad Administration’s Web site, there have been 10 reported accidents involving trains and motor vehicles at public and private crossings in Virginia through the first three months of 2006, assuming that the statistics are correct. There have been more since March 2006 in Virginia. As rural development and new roadways cross railroad tracks, inevitably there are increased crossing accidents. While motorists must be vigilant, logic dictates that railroads have a responsibility also in assuring that a highway/railroad crossing is safe also. Evidence is mounting that adding Stop Signs at crossings is not the answer.

As noted in another article on this blog (see Stop Sign article under “Train & Railroad Accidents” topic on this blog) , some rural railroad crossings with only stop signs are likely more dangerous than those railroad crossings with standard crossbucks (“X” shaped railroad warning signs). Prior to publication of a recent study showing crossing with stop signs are MORE DANGEROUS, the nation’s railroads have pushed for new state laws adding stop signs at railroad crossings.

While a casual safety advocate might believe the railroads are simply being safety conscious in wanting the stop signs, there is a more hidden agenda in the railroad efforts: if a crossing wreck occurs at a crossing with a stop sign, the railroad can defend an injury lawsuit by arguing that only the motorist is at fault for “failing to yield at a crossing controlled by a stop sign.”

Thus, the addition of the stop sign, separate from safety concerns, may serve to further insulate a railroad from being sued for injury or death.

Since new studies show that adding a stop sign makes a railroad crossing more dangerous, stop signs alone are a false hope for improving railroad crossing safety.

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