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RAILROADS RESPONSIBLE FOR WARNING DRIVERS OF APPROACHING TRAINS, SUPREME COURT DECIDES

 WASHINGTON, April 21 /PRNewswire/ -- In a victory for highway safety, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the responsibility of railroad companies to put adequate warning devices at grade crossings, where their tracks cross streets and highways -- and where more than 500 Americans are killed in accidents each year.
 The case, CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Easterwood, involved truck driver Thomas Easterwood, who was killed in 1988 when his truck was hit by a train at a grade crossing in Cartersville, Ga. His wife sued the railroad company for damages, claiming the crossing had inadequate warning devices and that the train was moving at an unreasonably high speed.
 The court's decision upholds a ruling by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that a railroad company remains responsible for giving drivers adequate warning of approaching trains, and that federal speed regulations supersede state laws that require trains to operate at a safe speed for existing conditions.
 "This decision is a major victory for everyone who uses the nation's highways," said American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue. "It gives railroads a financial incentive to invest in safety improvements such as warning devices, and as a result more lives will be saved.
 "However, we are disappointed that the court said federal speed regulations take precedence over state court decisions that would make trains slow down at grade crossings due to weather or poor visibility," he said. "A train, like any other vehicle, must be operated only at speeds that are safe for the conditions."
 In addition, Donohue said, ATA is concerned because the decision creates a loophole which shields railroads from responsibility when federal funds are used in the installation of warning devices at a grade crossing.
 About 6,000 accidents occur at railroad grade crossings each year, resulting in more than 500 deaths, federal statistics show. Trucks are involved in about 30 percent of those accidents, and trucks account for about 30 percent of the miles driven by all vehicles.
 Traditionally, railroads have been required by state and federal law to warn travelers of approaching trains. In this case, however, the railroads argued that the federal government took over that responsibility by issuing certain grade crossing improvement regulations -- leaving the railroad free from liability when an accident occurs at a crossing with no warning devices. Currently, there are more than 220,000 grade crossings with only "passive" warning devices -- such as signs or painted pavement -- or no warning at all.
 ATA filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that removing the railroads' traditional liability was not the government's intention in issuing the regulations, and that with no liability the railroads would have no incentive to improve safety at grade crossings.
 -0- 4/21/93
 /CONTACT: Mike Mason of the American Trucking Associations, 703-838-7935/


CO: American Trucking Associations ST: District of Columbia IN: TRN SU: LEG

KD-IH -- DC033 -- 8896 04/21/93 15:40 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Apr 21, 1993
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