Former em­ployee sues rail­road over in­juries

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - SCAR­LET SIMS Scar­let Sims can be reached by email at ssims@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWAS­car­lets.

FAYETTEVILLE — A former em­ployee says poor and un­safe work­ing con­di­tions at the Ar­kan­sas & Mis­souri Rail­road led to a 2014 train wreck that caused his in­juries, ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral law­suit.

Kevin Buehne, a former engi­neer, seeks money for med­i­cal ex­penses, missed wages, di­min­ished fu­ture wages and missed ben­e­fits, ac­cord­ing to his le­gal com­plaint filed Mon­day in U.S. District Court.

The law­suit claims the rail­road com­pany was neg­li­gent.

“There were a va­ri­ety of things (A&M) just didn’t get right,” said Steven Groves, Buehne’s at­tor­ney. “And, they had a sys­tem in place that was un­safe.”

The law­suit doesn’t list how much money Buehne wants. His in­juries in­cluded his head, knees and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Groves said the jury will de­cide how much money Buehne should get.

The law­suit is at least the sec­ond against the rail­road over the wreck. Six pas­sen­gers set­tled with the com­pany for an undis­closed amount of money in Oc­to­ber 2016, said Sean Keith, a Rogers at­tor­ney who rep­re­sented the pas­sen­gers.

Ron Sparks, the com­pany’s spokesman, said Wed­nes­day he had no com­ment about the new­est law­suit. He didn’t re­spond Thurs­day to a fol­low-up query.

The com­pany hasn’t yet been served with the law­suit, Groves said.

Buehne was the engi­neer on a work train that hit a stalled pas­sen­ger train headon on Oct. 16, 2014. All 39 pas­sen­gers and four mem­bers of the crew from the two trains were taken to hos­pi­tals. The in­juries were de­scribed at the time as not life-threat­en­ing.

The rails were cov­ered with leaves and slick, which caused the pas­sen­ger train to stall and kept the other train from stop­ping, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board re­port re­leased last month. The trains col­lided at 24 mph.

Other fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the wreck in­cluded patchy com­mu­ni­ca­tions, vi­o­la­tion of safety reg­u­la­tions and a partly by­passed sys­tem for spread­ing sand on the rails au­to­mat­i­cally in low-trac­tion sit­u­a­tions for the as­sist­ing train, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The work train also was trav­el­ing too fast, the re­port shows.

The com­pany didn’t give em­ploy­ees enough rest, didn’t prop­erly dis­patch trains and failed to pro­vide “nec­es­sary sight dis­tance for safe op­er­a­tion of lo­co­mo­tives,” ac­cord­ing to the suit. One of the trains also didn’t have a “prop­erly func­tion­ing brak­ing sys­tem,” and both trains didn’t have “prop­erly work­ing ra­dios,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Sparks said last month the rail­road com­pany has im­ple­mented changes in the wake of the wreck. Those changes in­cluded adding a sec­ond lo­co­mo­tive to all sight­see­ing trains to in­crease power, re­vis­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions for work­ing on and op­er­at­ing lo­co­mo­tives, putting in new record-keep­ing to track crew hours, rewrit­ing rules for dis­patch­ers and tight­en­ing pro­ce­dures for as­sist­ing stalled trains.

The com­pany also is in­stalling an im­proved ra­dio sys­tem, Sparks said.

File Photo/NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Ron Sparks (cen­ter), chief of the Ar­kan­sas & Mis­souri Rail­road po­lice, speaks to mem­bers of his staff as a fire­fighter car­ries a piece of emer­gency equip­ment after an ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing an A&M train Oct. 16, 2014, south of West Fork.

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