While the primary victims in most railway accidents are the unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians with whom trains collide, railroad employee representatives are bringing to light the trauma and stress experienced by railroad workers involved. The experience of seeing another human being maimed or killed before their very eyes leaves many railroad workers unable to simply forget the experience and return to their everyday lives.
The experiences of railroad workers such as Missouri’s J.D. Stone are unfortunately not uncommon. An ex-marine, Stone served as a train engineer of a 4,000-ton 64-car train that ran over a bicyclist who had fallen on the tracks. Stone says he will never forget the feeling of the train’s vibrations as it traveled over the 19-year-old victim’s body that fateful day.
With an estimated 500 people killed every year while trespassing on railroad tracks, Stone’s experience is not an isolated phenomenon. The psychological issues that follow many workers who witness crashes and fatalities remain some of the railroad industry’s most unfortunate secrets. What frequently makes workers’ experiences even more difficult is the failed attempts to slow or stop the train that often precede fatal crashes. Despite valiant efforts to avert collisions, the sheer size and speed of trains make it extremely difficult to prevent many accidents from occurring once a collision course is set.
Unfortunately, the price rail workers pay is often extremely high. Some are unable to continue working in their positions, while others turn to substance abuse or other dangerous behaviors which wreak havoc on marriages and families. Few escape their experiences unscathed.
In response to the needs of rail workers affected by on-the-job collisions, companies such as Union Pacific have instituted peer counseling programs for employees involved in highway-railroad crossing crashes. Union Pacific’s program is overseen by former railroad engineer Harry Stewart, who himself was involved in two fatal accidents during his railroad career. Stewart is uniquely qualified to serve as a counselor and mentor for railroad workers, since he truly understands their pain.
Rail workers involved in work-related accidents may need guidance from qualified legal representatives who can help them navigate the legal issues associated with their recovery.