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Rail crossing safety: gates or fines?

By Pottroff & Karlin LLC |

Centralia, Washington city police ticketed roughly 40 drivers who failed to stop at flashing red lights at a railroad crossing. The roughly 40 drivers were unwitting participants in a brief project, whose stated goal was to “improve safety”. This goal was supposed to be accomplished by fining the violators in an effort to teach them to act differently next time. A Union Pacific train was used, rolling back and forth to trigger the lights and catch any cars which crossed while the lights flashed.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it is important to teach the public about safety at railroad crossings. But what strikes you as being more effective: fining roughly 40 citizens at an unguarded railroad crossing, or implementing safety technology which guards the crossing? If your reasoning runs like mine, you’re probably inclined to say that the latter choice is superior by far. The chances of this operation “saving lives” by teaching 40 random citizens a lesson (or at least giving them a ticket) seems statistically slim, especially compared to the power of a protective gate.

But logic aside, at least there’s a nod in the direction of safety. That it is likely completely useless shouldn’t bother those who collected the funds from this little enterprise. Shouldn’t those concerned for safety be worried about proper safety equipment?


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Train crash cases are unique and complex with many different potential pitfalls, such as federal preemption. Anytime I get hired or even get a call from a train crash victim, my very first call is to Nathan’s firm. Nathan’s knowledge and experience in handling and trying cases against these litigation savvy railroad companies gives me the confidence to know that the clients and cases I refer to him are getting the best of the best.

James Perrin Lubbock, Texas

I have had the opportunity to work as co-counsel with Nathan on several railroad crossing accidents cases. In each case, Nathan always possessed an incredible knowledge of the law and the facts, possessed a great talent for aggressive - strategic legal planning and trial tactics while, at the same time, displaying great skill as an effective negotiator. I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation.

Scott McCluen Harriman, Tennessee

Nathan Karlin has my strongest endorsement in the field of railroad crossing cases and personal injury law. I had the pleasure of working with Nathan in a complex railroad personal injury case. I was impressed by Nathan’s knowledge, his work ethic, and his dedication to the client. I look forward to working with Nathan on future injury matters. I am also aware firsthand that he has obtained excellent trial and settlement results in numerous cases involving members of the public harmed by railroad companies.

Joseph M. Miller Mandeville, Louisiana

Nathan is a warrior fighting the railroads. As a fellow personal injury lawyer, I have constantly been impressed with his depth of knowledge and his capabilities from case to case. I’d take him into battle with me any day against the biggest railroads and insurance companies on the planet.

Jon C. Clark Austin, Texas

Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert Schuetze Boulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

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Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger Brown Jefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth Hardy Lake Charles, Louisiana

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