December 21, 2014

Rail workers’ health issues a growing safety concern

Visibility was 10 miles and the morning sun had pushed the temperature close to 90 as Danny Joe Hall guided his mile-long Union Pacific freight train east through the grasslands of the Oklahoma Panhandle. Near the farming town of Goodwell, federal investigators said, the 56-year-old engineer sped through a series of yellow and red signals warning him to slow down and stop for a Los Angeles-bound train moving slowly onto a side track.

The 83-mph collision killed Hall and two crewmen. Dozens of freight cars derailed, and the resulting inferno sent towers of black smoke over the plains, prompting the evacuation of a nearby trailer park. As it turned out, Hall was colorblind. The National Transportation Safety Board’s subsequent probe of the June 2012 wreck faulted the engineer’s deteriorating eyesight and inadequate medical screening that failed to fully evaluate his vision problems.

But the Goodwell crash underscored a far larger concern: Railroads are the only mode of U.S. commercial transportation without national requirements for thorough, regular health screenings to identify worker ailments and medications that could compromise public safety.

 Read more from the Los Angeles Times.