Historical Perspective

Working on the railroads has always been dangerous. In 1908, for example, 4,500 rail workers died and nearly 88,000 were injured.

In response to the carnage taking place along the nation's tracks, Congress enacted the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) that very same year.

 

FELA was designed to achieve two goals simultaneously — provide injured rail workers or their survivors with fair compensation, and save lives by creating a financial incentive for rail companies to improve safety.

FELA has significantly reduced the number of rail employees injured or killed on the job due to employer negligence. However, as a New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé documented in 2005, rail work is still dangerous and FELA's strong incentives must be maintained.

Just how dangerous is the rail industry? In a groundbreaking exposé that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, The New York Times revealed that thousands of lives have been senselessly lost due to the irresponsibility of rail carriers.

Left to their own devices, rail companies skimp on safety and cover up wrongdoing:

"track defects repeatedly went uncorrected; passenger trains were sent down defective tracks at speeds more than four times faster than were deemed safe; and engines and rail cars were dispatched in substandard condition."

"the nation's railroads have a spotty record of keeping black boxes in working order and have sometimes lost or erased their data."

Rail carrier negligence has also led to thousands of preventable deaths at crossings:

"since 2000, more than 1,600 people have died in grade-crossing accidents, more than twice the number killed in commercial plane crashes."

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