Every year, many railroaders are injured as a result of unsafe ground/walking conditions. While railroaders can
be seriously injured in a single falling incident, they can also be injured as a result of cumulative trauma –
meaning they are injured as a result of walking on unsafe ground conditions over the course of their railroad
careers. Unsafe ground condition injuries are not limited to the feet and legs, but can include injuries to the
spine, as well as injuries to the upper extremities and head in the case of a fall.
Virtually any foreign object on the ground in a rail yard or along a railroad track can create an unsafe ground
Below are a few examples of unsafe walking conditions:
- Bad ballast - Ballast is the name for the rock and gravel which railroad tracks are laid upon.
do not maintain adequate ballast or do not properly grade ballast. As a result, railroad workers are injured
when the ballast slides or gives way underneath their feet. This can result in falling injuries as well as more
severe injuries or death if a railroader falls onto the railroad tracks. There is also supposed to be a
difference between ballast the railroad lays in rail yards, and ballast the railroad lays along mainline
railroad tracks. Because workers are often working on the ground in railroad yards, industry standards and
railroad rules require railroads to use smaller “yard” ballast as opposed to larger “main line” ballast. Often
times, railroads will ignore these standards and rules and lay main line ballast in their rail yards to save
money. Over the course of a career, a railroader can suffer serious and permanent injuries to the feet, ankles,
knees, hips, and/or spine as a result of walking on large, main line ballast.
- Debris/vegetation - Debris is any foreign substance on the ground where a railroader is working. In
context, debris often takes the form of discarded railroad ties, track spikes, trash, and/or cargo which has
fallen from moving rail cars. Debris near a railroad track is very dangerous, particularly where it is hidden in
or under ballast. Debris can cause a railroader to slip and fall, potentially onto railroad tracks where he/she
can be struck and killed by a moving train or railcar. While debris should be cleared by the railroads, they
often do not clear debris because clearing debris does not make them money. For many of the same reasons,
vegetation in and around railroad tracks is dangerous to railroad workers. While railroads are required to clear
their work areas of vegetation to maintain a safe place to work, this is frequently not done, resulting in
unsafe ground conditions.
- Track repair - Railroads often hire outside contractors to make repairs to railroad tracks. These contractors
will frequently leave tools and other materials on or near the railroad tracks, creating unsafe walking
conditions for railroad workers. Moreover, the heavy equipment used by these contractors will often leave holes
and depressions in the ground. When these holes are covered (by ballast, snow, mud, etc.) they create tripping
hazards near railroad tracks where unsuspecting railroad workers can be injured or killed. Because the railroad
hires these contractors, the railroad is responsible for ensuring that their work is performed properly, and
their materials and equipment properly cleared before railroad workers are assigned to work there.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of unsafe ground/walking conditions, it does identify common unsafe
conditions, and the catastrophic injuries which can result when the railroad permits unsafe ground/walking
conditions to exist.