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Miller v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

March 1, 2006

THOMAS E. MILLER AND LYNN MILLER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, D/B/A CANADIAN NATIONAL/ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD (CN/IC); NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION; STS ACQUISITION CO., D/B/A STS CONSULTANTS, LTD.; CENTRAL STATES ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC.; THOMAS E. RATHERT, JOHN M. SOELL; AND CARL G. DAY; DEFENDANTS/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
S&M BASEMENTS AND GARY SMITH, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is a case about a tragic accident that occurred on August 30, 2001, when Plaintiff Thomas Miller's pickup truck collided with an Amtrak train. All Defendants have moved for summary judgment, and a hearing was held on January 30, 2006. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

The tragic collision between Thomas Miller and the Amtrak train occurred on a private railroad crossing on the premises of Illinois Central Railroad Company ("Illinois Central") in Centralia, Illinois. Miller was working at the site on behalf of his company, Third-Party Defendant, S&M Basements, which he owned and operated along with Third-Party Defendant, Gary Smith. Miller was one of several subcontractors working at this site to build a new fuel depot and sand tower. Defendants STS Acquisition Company ("STS") and Central States Environmental Services ("CSES") were also working at the job site.

The railroad crossing at issue was comprised of three sets of railroad tracks running in a north-south direction. When traveling from the west to the east over the crossing, as Miller was on the day of his accident, the first set of tracks was a "rip" track used for the storage of boxcars awaiting repair. The middle track was used primarily to switch cars; it was not a mainline track. On the day of the accident, the middle track was not occupied by any cars. The third track, the eastern most track where the accident occurred, was a mainline used by both Illinois Central and Amtrak.

According to various witnesses, a person crossing the tracks could move his vehicle in a slow fashion past the first track but not yet to the middle track to give a clear view to determine whether a train was approaching on the third track. Miller's business partner, Gary Smith, testified during discovery that there was ample room to safely "creep" past parked cars on the first track to see whether a train was coming on the third track.

On the day of the accident, the Amtrak train was traveling northbound. Miller approached from the west, traveling eastbound. There is evidence in the record that he never slowed his vehicle, stopped, or looked. There is also evidence that Miller admitted that he never looked in the direction of the train. Of course, Miller denies the admission.

The Amtrak locomotive was equipped with headlights and ditch lights that were operating and flashing at the time of the accident. The engineer of the locomotive, Defendant Thomas Rathert, saw Miller's vehicle. According to him, there were no material obstructions between Miller's truck and the locomotive.

The track was rated a class four track by the Federal Railroad Administration Track Safety Standards and had a federal prescribed speed limit of 79 miles per hour. At the time of the impact, the train was traveling approximately 78 miles per hour. There is evidence that the train blew its normal whistle pattern as it approached the private crossing, and when the engineer realized that Miller's vehicle was not going to stop, a frantic and erratic whistle pattern ensued. Some eyewitnesses have confirmed that the locomotive's whistle sounded prior to impact, although there is some conflicting testimony on this point.

Miller had been working on the job site for approximately a week and a half before the collision. Workmen from S&M Basements testified that they were aware a train usually passed by the job site on a regular basis and that the Amtrak passed everyday at 5:00 p.m. Not surprisingly, Miller has no memory of the incident, but he testified in deposition that he was aware he was crossing train tracks and that the Amtrak train normally crossed the tracks at 5:00 p.m. every day.

Defendant STS was the onsite project manager for the fueling station improvement project at Illinois Central's rail yard. Defendant CSES was a contractor retained by STS to perform excavation and cleanup work for the fueling station improvement project. CSES contracted with Miller's business, S&M Basements, to provide concrete services.

Subject matter jurisdiction is founded upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1349. The complaint was filed in Marion County state court and removed by Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") on October 9, 2003. The Court has original subject matter jurisdiction because the United States is the owner of more than one-half of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation's capital stock. See 28 U.S.C. § 1349.

ANALYSIS

The standard applied to summary judgment motions filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is well-settled and has ...


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