Some railroads falsely blame motorists for car-train crashes, then repeatedly sidestep their own responsibility in grade-crossing fatalities, reports the New York Times in a series that began Sunday and continued Monday. Their actions range from destroying, mishandling or simply losing evidence to not reporting the crashes properly in the first place. Although the accidents draw relatively little attention, on average, one person a day dies at a crossing in the United States. Since 2000, more than twice as many people have been killed at grade crossings as have died in commercial plane crashes.
Union Pacific stands out. In one recent 18-month period, seven federal and state courts imposed sanctions on Union Pacific, the nation’s biggest railroad, for destroying or failing to preserve evidence in crossing accidents. Over the last eight years, railroads have also broken federal rules by failing to promptly report hundreds of fatal accidents, 71 of them last year, denying the federal authorities the chance to investigate when evidence is fresh and still available. Enforcement of these rules is so lax that federal officials said they were not even aware of the reporting problems.