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The steel rail from Charlotte to the coast that was synonymous with progress when its tracks were first laid in the 1850s is once again on the front-burner to the state’s plans – and once again raising the ire of its neighbors.

The N.C. Railroad, a private company that runs the state-owned tracks from Charlotte to Morehead City, is backing off what some said was a heavy-handed approach toward businesses and institutions that had slowly encroached on a swath of land surrounding the train tracks that the railroad claims as its own.

The N.C. Railroad remains intent on managing the 200-foot wide corridor, though critics dispute that width. But after complaints from residents and the nudging of legislators, the company has abandoned some of its demands.

Railroad officials say they need to better regulate the corridor to maintain safety and make improvements to the 317-mile-long railway at a time when energy costs and environmental concerns have made railroads an increasingly popular option for transporting people and freight.

In the last three years of the Bush Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued nine federal rules which include language that usurps more stringent state safety laws. In 2007, the FRA issued a passenger safety equipment rule regarding the front-end strength of railroad cars.

In a rule that should have enhanced the safety of rail passengers, the agency inserted boilerplate preemption language that attempts to block lawsuits by injured consumers if the company meets the bare minimum federal safety requirements.

The Obama administration continues the push to expand rail transportation and develop high-speed passenger trains. It is becoming more imperative now that the new FRA administrator roll-back Bush era regulations that protect corporations instead of injured consumers.

In was just last September of 2008, when a Metrolink commuter train collided with a freight train, the engineer and 24 passengers were killed , more than 130 were injured, as well. The preemption language in the passenger safety equipment rule could be used to prohibit consumers like those injured in the Metrolink crash from seeking justice under state law.

State tort claims provide an added check on railroad corporations by providing incentives for manufacturers to make their products safer. It is hoped that the new FRA administrator shows strong leadership on railroad safety and serves protect citizens injured in railroad accidents.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper,Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm is based in Virginia (VA), near the NE North Carolina (NC) border and handles car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more. Our lawyers proudly edit the Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono public information service. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY.

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