Scott County

Train that derailed in Georgetown was unsafe, say 2 employees sued, blamed by the railroad

The engineer and conductor of a train that derailed in Georgetown last year say Norfolk Southern Railway knew a locomotive “was not in proper condition” before the crash with another train.

Norfolk Southern sued engineer Kevin Tobergte of Fort Thomas and conductor Andrew Hall of Fort Mitchell in federal court last year. The railroad claimed the two employees were liable for damages and negligent in their operation of southbound train No. 175 that crashed into a stopped northbound train on March 18.

The crash destroyed two locomotives, caused the derailment of 13 cars, started a fire, forced a temporary evacuation and sent four people to the hospital as a precaution. Norfolk Southern reported to the Federal Railroad Administration that it sustained $3.7 million in damages as a result of the accident.

But Tobergte and Hall say in separate counterclaims filed last month that it was Norfolk Southern who was negligent. A Norfolk Southern spokeswoman had no comment on the counterclaims.

The two employees were assigned to take the train from Sharonsville, Ohio, to Burnside, Ky. Tobergte and Hall say the lead locomotive on the trip was not equipped with “positive train control” technology.

Positive train control is an advanced system designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur, particularly train-to-train collisions. Hall said the collision would not have happened if the technology had been available and operating on this trip.

Hall’s counterclaim said he activated an emergency brake but saw the light of the stopped northbound train and realized that a collision was imminent.

Hall “feared for his life and tried to persuade Mr. Tobergte that they needed to flee the train,” the counterclaim says. “Seconds before the collision, Mr. Hall fled the operating compartment, scrambled off the locomotive and started running. He heard the collision and thought the derailing train was going to crush him.”

Hall had scraped and bruised legs and knees. His counterclaim says he “suffered and continues to suffer severe and disabling post-traumatic stress and emotional harm.”

Hall said Norfolk Southern understood that he lacked the financial resources to pay the damages it claims to have sustained and that he would be forced to declare bankruptcy should a judgment be entered against him.

The counterclaim said the railroad pulled Hall out of service after the collision and he has had no railroad income since that time. The railroad began disciplinary proceedings against him and intended to terminate him.

“Thus, Norfolk Southern knew that the lawsuit it filed against Mr. Hall would not result in it recovering any money from him,” the counterclaim says.

Engineer Tobergte alleges Norfolk Southern violated the federal Locomotive Inspection Act by permitting “the use of locomotives on its lines which were not in proper condition and safe to operate.”

The railroad also permitted “the use of locomotives ... that were not free of conditions that endangered the safety of the crew.”

Tobergte says that as a result of the accident he “suffered injuries and/or aggravated a pre-existing condition to his back, ribs, lungs and the development of post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Hall and Tobergte each seek a jury trial and a judgment against the railroad for damages and losses suffered in excess of $75,000.

In its suit last year, Norfolk Southern said Hall and Tobergte failed “to pay attention to their duties,” failed to properly control the movement and speed reduction, and failed to announce to a dispatcher that they had applied an emergency brake so that “other trains in the vicinity could be notified of the event.”

The company’s suit said the two men were liable for damages to the railway’s property, including locomotives; rail cars; tracks; right of way; and communications and signal equipment. The two also were liable for expenses related to getting the train and cars back on the track, transporting the locomotives for repair, and loss of use of the damaged locomotives and rail cars, the railroad said in its lawsuit.