Board Says Engineer’s Eyesight to Blame in Deadly Train Crash

Law Firm Newswire



Washington, D.C. (Law Firm Newswire) July 26, 2013 – At a recent hearing, safety officials blamed an engineer’s poor eyesight for a 2012 train collision in Oklahoma.

The collision happened on June 24, 2012 near the panhandle town of Goodwell. Two freight trains collided, killing three workers and causing some $15 million in damage. A doctor testified before a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) panel and said that the engineer had suffered serious and lasting vision problems and even had trouble telling the difference between red and green signals.

“This testimony is shocking,” said Washington, D.C. personal injury attorney David Lietz. “By all indications, there was a stunning lack of personal responsibility on the part of the engineer and oversight on the part of the railroad company.”

At the hearing in Washington, Dr. Mary Pat McKay told the NTSB that in the three years that preceded the crash, the engineer had visited eye doctors about 50 times and undergone about a dozen corrective procedures. He had suffered from glaucoma and cataracts for years, McKay said. The board voted 5-0 to declare the eyesight of the engineer the probable cause of the collision. The engineer’s name was withheld.

The panel also proposed 16 new safety recommendations for railroad companies, oversight agencies, and unions, mainly dealing with stricter medical screenings for workers in potentially hazardous positions.

Currently, according to McKay, the Federal Railroad Administration does not require workers to submit to comprehensive medical screenings, instead relying on them to report their own medical conditions. McKay said that the engineer would have failed a color vision test in the years leading up to the collision.

The board also heard testimony from Tim DePaepe, an investigator at the accident site. He said that “positive train control” would have averted the accident. That is a system by which visible and audible warnings alert engineers to a hazardous situation and the brakes are automatically applied if the engineers do not respond. If positive train control had been implemented, the collision would not have occurred, DePaepe said.

“The NTSB recommendations for stricter medical screenings are necessary for public safety,” Lietz added. “It’s unfortunate that it took a preventable deadly accident like this to bring it about.”

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