Posts Tagged ‘railroad lawsuits’

Jury Sides With CSX in Civil Case

September 7, 2021

A Pennsylvania jury found CSX to be no negligent during a jury trial in a federal district court for injuries suffered by a pedestrian struck by a train in January 2013.

The case, which was heard in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, involved a lawsuit filed by Jonathan Lopex, 34, who suffered the loss of a leg below the knee and brain damage.

He had sought more than $2 million in damages in the civil action.

Attorneys for Lopez said the crew of the train failed to exercise reasonable care by allowing the train to travel in excess of the speed limit and failing to stop the train to avoid striking Lopez.

CSX countered that Lopez was primarily responsible for the accident because he was walking with his head down and listening to music.

The railroad’s attorneys contended that had Lopez listened for the locomotive bell, horn and ambient noise he would have hear the train coming.

The accident occurred at a public grade crossing with warning lights.  Evidence introduced at trial indicated the train was traveling between 11 and 14 mph on a segment of track where the top speed is 11 mph.

CN Sues STB Over Line Sale Stipulation

April 29, 2021

Canadian National has gone to court to overturn a U.S. Surface Transportation Board edict in its proposed purchase of a CSX line.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, seeks to set aside some conditions the STB imposed when it approved the sale.

CN argues that the STB is required to approve a line sale unless the competitive harm of the transaction outweighs its benefits.

The transaction in question is 263.3 miles of the CSX Massena line between Syracuse, New York, and Montreal.

CN has proposed acquiring the track through its U.S. subsidiary Bessemer & Lake Erie

In approving the sale, the STB made it contingent upon the railroads removing a clause that would forever prohibit CN from seeking to interchange traffic with short lines Finger Lakes Railway and New York, Susquehanna & Western in the Syracuse area.

After CN and CSX were unable to come to terms with that stipulation, they asked the STB to reconsider its decision.

But the board refused and the line sale has been in limbo since late February.

Union Sues CSX Over Payroll Errors

March 17, 2021

CSX has been sued by the union representing its maintenance-of-way workers over what the lawsuit alleges is the failure of the company to correct payroll errors that resulted from a new payment system.

The lawsuit was filed in a federal district court in Kentucky by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division Allied Federation.

The union contends that CSX unilateral implemented its TimeTrax program in violation of a requirement to reach agreement with the union before making changes in rates, terms, and working conditions.

Other allegations in the lawsuit are that payroll errors are widespread and that some workers have seen their paychecks shorted by thousands of dollars.

CSX and the union had sought to reach an out-of-court agreement, but the union said settlement discussions have failed.

“We have asked that all the problems be resolved, but management still does not appear to recognize that TimeTrax is a serious problem, let alone one that should have been fixed already,” said BMWED Allied Federal General Chairman Dennis Albers said in a statement.

Judge Rules Against RRs in Fuel Surcharge Case

February 23, 2021

Four Class 1 railroads lost their bid to exclude certain evidence from litigation involved fuel surcharges the railroads imposed.

Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the carriers who argued that federal law allowed them to communicate to discuss interline agreements.

However, Judge Friedman said accepting this interpretation of the law in question “would extend its protection to discussions or agreements involving competing traffic,”

The judge said “this interpretation is inconsistent with Congress’s stated purpose to protect limited categories of discussions and agreements that concern interline movements.”

The lawsuit involves more than 200 shippers and names as defendants BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific.

The suit alleges that the railroads improperly agreed to impose the fuel surcharges starting in 2003.

Pa. High Court Spurns R&N Appeal

February 14, 2021

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will not hear the appeal of the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern over the selection process used to choose an operator of five short line rail routes in central Pennsylvania.

R&N had commenced litigation to overturn a decision of the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority that favored an operator other than R&N to operate the lines.

A lower court had ruled that SEDA-COG was within its rights to eliminate R&N from proposals to operate the five lines.

In its legal briefs, R&N contended that although its bid had been ranked the lowest of those received by SEDA-COG, the process used to rank the bidder had been designed to eliminate R&N from consideration.

Lawsuit Seeks to Force Unions to Talk About Crew Size

October 8, 2019

A railroad union is being sued by eight railroads in an effort to force it to bargain over train crew size in upcoming contract talks.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Northern District of Texas against the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Division by BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern and three other railroads, two of which (Illinois Central and Grand Trunk Western) exist on paper because they are part of Canadian National.

The eighth railroad in the lawsuit is the Belt Railway of Chicago.

The suit contends that the union has refused to negotiate crew sizes at the national level. The union has contended that negotiating over crew size is banned under its current contracts with the railroads.

The railroads disagree with that interpretation of the contract and want the dispute to be resolved through arbitration.

The lawsuit described the issue of crew size as “one of the most contentious issues that has ever arisen in collective bargaining between the railroads and the unions.”

Negotiations for a new contract are expected to begin on Nov. 1 and the railroads want to talk about crew sizes during those sessions.

The lawsuit contends that the railroads “will be unable to progress the bargaining in the face of SMART-TD’s  . . . tactics to delay or obstruct any negotiations over crew consist. Every day that the railroads are unable to obtain new agreements is another day that they are unable to realize the benefits of more efficient and productive operations, and there is no way for the railroads to recover those lost potential savings.”

In a news release, SMART described the lawsuit as not the first time that railroads have tried to “attack” the crew size issue.

Typically, contract talks over wages, benefits and work rules are conducted by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents all Class I roads and a number of smaller ones, with 12 unions representing 140,000 railroad workers.

The last round of negotiations between began in January 2015 and drug on for three years.

Because labor contracts do not expire so there is no deadline for negotiations.

Shippers Sue 4 Class 1 Railroads Over Fuel Charges

October 5, 2019

Several shippers have filed lawsuits against four U.S. Class 1 railroads alleging that they conspired to increase fees with fuel charges as early as 2003.

Twenty-seven companies have sued BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

Among the plaintiffs are Hundai, Kia, Campbell’s Soup, Amalgamated Sugar and Mercedes-Benz USA.

A federal judge had earlier rejected a motion to grant the suits class action status, saying the plaintiffs would need to file actions individually or as groups.

One of the lawsuit filed by Amalgamated Sugar in U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho, contends that the railroads “engaged in an extraordinary series of meetings, phone calls and email communications through which they embarked on a conspiracy — under the guise of a fuel cost recovery program — to apply and enforce rail fuel surcharges across their customers in order to generate profits.”

Spokesmen for Union Pacific and BNSF denied the allegations while NS and CSX did not respond to a request for comment.

AAR Sues Kentucky Over Grade Crossing Law

May 24, 2018

The Association of American Railroads has gone to court over a Kentucky county’s practice of citing railroads for blocking grade crossings for more than five minutes.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and contends that a Kentucky law restricting the blocking of crossings for no more than five minutes is unconstitutional.

At issue is the behavior of Pulaski County, which has been citing Norfolk Southern since at least March 15, 2017.

A Pulaski County court has held NS in contempt for failing to change its operating practices and fined it $1,000 for each of 17 separate violations.

The AAR lawsuit was filed on behalf of all railroads operating in Kentucky and seeks a court order declaring that the Kentucky law violates the U.S. Constitution and that local authorities may not fine any railroad under the statute.

Judge Rules in Favor of Carload Express in SEDA-COG Contract Awarding Dispute

May 9, 2018

The SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority has been ordered by a Pennsylvania court to award a freight railroad operating contract to Carload Express.

The contract covers operating rights over five short-line railroads in Centre, Lycoming, Northumberland, Mifflin, Montour, Columbia and Clinton counties owned by SEDA-COG and serving 70 customers over 200 miles of track.

Carload Express would replace Susquehanna Union Railroad, the parent company of North Shore Railroad, as operator of the lines.

At issue is SEDA-COG’s interpretation of how many board members are needed to award a contract.

SEDA-COG argued that at least nine of its 16 voting board members are needed to determine to award an operating contract.

In 2014, SEDA-COG sought proposals to operate the short lines and received three bids. It later chose two finalists, Carload Express and Susquehanna Union.

At a July 2015 board meeting, six board members withdrew from the contract vote because of potential conflicts of interest.

Seven of the 10 voting members favored awarding the contract to Carload Express.

But SEDA-COG said because that fell short of a majority of the board – meaning nine or more board members – the vote failed to meet its requirement to award an operating contract to Carload Express of Allegheny County.

A Clinton County Court of Common Pleas later ruled in SEDA-COG’s favor in a lawsuit filed by Carload Express.

The latest ruling overturns that decision and was made by a Commonwealth Court judge.

In response to the Commonwealth Court’s decision, Susquehanna Union said it is considering its legal options.

Susquehanna had pending a lawsuit of its own in Clinton Country that alleges that the request for proposals to operate the SEDA-COG lines was tainted by a board member who committed ethical violations.

Susquehanna contents that the outcome of its lawsuit could negate the award to Carload by the Commonwealth Court.

In the meantime, SEDA-COG has held off awarding the contract to Carload Express, instead voting unanimously to hold a special meeting to discuss the litigation.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson found in the state court opinion that a 7-3 vote from the 16-member SEDA-COG was a valid endorsement of a contract with Carload Express.

Simpson relied on the state Municipal Authorities Act, which states that a contract can be awarded based on a vote of the majority of an authority’s members who are present.

North Shore is based in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and has 80 employees. It interchanges freight with Norfolk Southern.

NS Lawsuit is About Playing for Rules, Not Money

April 14, 2018

Norfolk Southern fired a warning shot last week that it wanted all of its operating employees to hear.

It filed a lawsuit against two crew members who were operating a train in Georgetown, Kentucky, last March that collided with another NS train.

The suit, filed in a federal district court, alleges that the engineer and conductor were negligent in their operation of their train.

When I read about the lawsuit I was reminded of something I learned in an introduction of the legal system class during my undergraduate days. “You can’t get blood from a turnip,” said professor Charles Hollister.

As any trial lawyer knows, winning a judgment is one thing, collecting it can be quite another.

The lawyers in the NS legal department know this. Even if they prevail in the suit against the two crew members, NS lawyers know the company will see very little, if any, of the judgment.

Class 1 railroad operating employees may be paid well, but they don’t have the resources to be able to cover the cost of the damage that NS sustained in that head-on crash.

The defendant crew members might be able to escape the judgment by seeking bankruptcy protection.

NS is not seeking to win money even if that is the ostensible purpose of the suit. Rather, it is playing for rules.

Railroad managers more often than not believe the cause of a major incident that causes property damage, injuries or fatalities is the “fault” of one or more railroad operating employees.

Employees, their unions and even some regulators take a broader view of the cause of incidents.

They look at working conditions, conflicting directives of management, and organizational deficiencies as also playing a role in causation.

A report of the NS lawsuit by Trains magazine indicated that the crew that was sued by NS ran a stop signal.

The magazine reported an unnamed source with railroad operating experience as saying that it used to be that running through stop indication resulted in a 30-day suspension but now it leads to automatic termination.

The fired crew members through their union have a right to appeal that through an arbitration process. Sometimes employees get their jobs back, depending on the facts of the case.

A friend who worked as a Class 1 locomotive engineer says it is easy to get fired on the railroad but hard to stay fired. It is that reality that NS is seeking to change or at least title the scales more to management’s advantage.

NS might not even expect this case to go to trial. Perhaps it will offer to drop the lawsuit if the crew members agree not to go to arbitration and/or agree not to work for NS again.

A union official quoted by Trains correctly expressed doubt as to whether the railroad could win the case. Lawsuits such as this are uncommon and few, if any, railroad employees could afford the judgment NS is seeking.

But NS sees something of greater value at stake. The union official interviewed by Trains said that the lawsuit sets a precedent. Yes, it does, and NS wants its employees to know that.

NS is not necessarily going to sue every employee who is involved in a collision or derailment.

It probably chose this case because it sees the facts as in its favor because it has hard evidence to show a clear violation of company rules.

Ensuring that operating crews follow the rules all of the time regardless of circumstances is what NS is seeking to achieve, even if it means filing a suit seeking money it knows it won’t ever collect.