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I am an injury lawyer in Virginia who specializes in railroad accidents and works with the national plaintiff’s bar group, the AAJ, as their railroad law section chair, so I follow these kinds of metro train disasters closely. The city officials for the District of Columbia, the federal officials at the NTSB, and the officials from Metrorail have been relatively measured in saying who did what wrong to cause one Metro train with six cars to crash into and jump over the back of another on Monday, June 22, 2009. However, you can just hear the implication that this young woman who was unfortunate enough to be behind the controls and was killed on the rear-ending train was as fault. The media immediately pointed out that she was relatively new to the job of operating the Metro trains. They talked about the fact that it was a clear day, and a straight set of tracks, not in a dark subway tunnel, so that she should have been able to see what was in front of her. They pointed out that even if the train is being run in automatic, which it apparently was, that she had an emergency brake button which she can push to avoid a collision.

Sometimes a train wreck is in fact the conductor’s, engineer’s or train operator’s fault as apparently it may have been in the case in the Los Angeles Metro Link disaster a year ago. In that situation, it turned out that there really was a distraction, namely, using a cell phone that caused the person responsible for the passengers’ safety to “be asleep at the switch.” But sometimes it’s not the case that the worker in charge is a cause or a main cause of multiple people being dead or injured in the train wreck. Sometimes, the implication that it was one particular worker’s fault may be used to get the who organization off the hook for systemic problems that they knew about and failed to do anything to properly respond to.

For example, some of the information coming out in the days after this D.C. Metro two-train accident are as follows:

1. It appears that the “mushroom” button used to stop the train had been activated by the operator;

2. This old Series 1000 train may not have been properly maintenanced before the disaster;

3. The older train was not even supposed to be used as NTSB and other agencies had told the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that these train cars were obsolete and not reasonably safe;

4. Even the older trains were supposed to have some kind of computer, automatic emergency braking to prevent trains from getting too close to one another and just this kind of collision which evidently failed; and

5. Other aspects of the train were potentially unsafe and might lead to more people dying or getting severely hurt, including the crashworthiness features of the older subway cars.

If some of these systematic factors turn out to be the main cause, then the administrators of the system are the ones who made bad choices that caused nine people to die, rather than anything that the poor employee did or didn’t do on the date of this fatal wreck.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal My injury lawfirm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, as well as the Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY, who handle car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more.


  1. Gravatar for SamR

    As a Train Operator in the NYCT, I completely agree that the bosses always try to cover their A*ses by blaiming the train op. Robert Ray got years in prison for the people who died at 14th st - if this turns out to be a system error, will the bosses at DC metro go to jail?


  2. Gravatar for Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton
    Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton


    Thanks for your post. You would think that more heads would roll in these situations. In the railroad crossing cases we work on for train crew in FELA cases, the major railroads often throw the conductor or engineer under the train before they look at whether the track department set up a dangerous crossing and ignoring the transportation department’s failure to provide training on avoiding and responding to collisions with cars and trucks.

    The latest on the DC Metro disaster is that it may be that the signals on the track circuits were not working. That is not a defect that the train operator can control.

    Very truly yours,

    John M. Cooper

  3. Gravatar for Dana

    Well the Blame it on the Dead Guy, or on the operator has been going on for a long time in US Railroading history.

    Look back at the wreck of Jonathan Luther "Casey" Jones in 1900. They covered up that he was short flagged, as there is no way Mr. Newberry the flagman could have ran across the freightyard in time to stop his train.

    They also forget to mention he was pulling a double shift.. "asleep at the switch" case.. the poor track design at Vaughan, MS....

    Although Casey is not totally innocent for his own wreck he had some of the blame, but on the official records of the Illinois Central Railroad they made him take full responsibility and blame for the entire wreck. Nothing about shortflagged or over worked...

    I am glad to hear you are railroad lawyer standing up for the rights of railroad victims and employees. Someone has to, and I hope soon the railroad companies and administrations will have to be made accountable for their errors and


    After all they need to remember who it is that hires the employees, and trains them. They should be responsible to make sure those employees are well trained and conditioned to do the job right, and they have the responsibility to make sure their equipment is safe, and up to standard.

    IF they refuse I hope people like you sue them big time... coming from a diehard railfan.

    - Dana


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