Railroad Related Deaths

A railroad-related death is defined as a death that either occurred or was discovered on railroad property, including railroad cars, tracks, and right-of-way (708). Various scenarios have been described, and all manners of death occur (708-713):

• Motor vehicle-train collisions (Fig. 87).

• Vehicles can stall or deliberately stop on the tracks. Drivers may be unaware of a train when driving through an unprotected crossing. Drivers ignore or bypass crossing gates.

• Pedestrian-train collisions.

• Individuals are found on or near railway tracks. Unwitnessed deaths arouse suspicion. In witnessed cases, pedestrians are observed lying or sitting on the tracks, walking on or near the tracks, bypassing a lowered crossing gate, or jumping in front of a train. Alcohol and other drugs are significant factors in accidental deaths, particularly in individuals lying on the tracks (708,710,712,714-716). Suicide victims may have a psychiatric history (709).

• Train passengers.

• Legitimate passengers and trespassers can fall from a train or be crushed between rail cars. Derailments occur. An individual murdered on a train may be thrown onto the tracks.

Fig. 88. Motor vehicle-train collision. The driver sustained multiple injuries. Cholangiocarcinoma of liver-an unsuspected finding discovered at autopsy.
Fig. 89. Pedestrian-train collision; suicide. (A) Decapitation; extensive abrasions and adhered dirt on back. (B) Amputated foot.

In all circumstances, the postmortem examination needs to exclude pre-existent disease as a cause of death or as a contributing factor to the incident (Fig. 88; ref. 708).

The cause of death, in most cases, is obvious multiple blunt trauma (708,709, 711,713,716). Most victims are male (713,714,717). Traumatic amputations are more frequent in pedestrians compared with motor vehicle occupants (Fig. 89; refs. 708,

Fig. 90. Pedestrian-train collision; suicide. Transection of abdomen.

714, and 717). Although traumatic amputation is considered less likely in upright individuals, these persons can be propelled onto the tracks after being hit (713). Others have observed no distinguishing injury pattern in different types of railway deaths (711,717). A pedestrian struck by a high-speed train sustains massive cranio-cerebral trauma, opening of body cavities, exenteration of organs, and dismemberment, including the trunk (Fig. 90; ref. 713). Decapitation is usually noted in suicide but can occur in high-speed collisions (Fig. 89; ref. 709, 713, and 716). Adhered dirt and grease on the body indicates that a pedestrian has been struck by a train (Fig. 89; ref. 713).

Because of extensive disruption of a body caused by train impact, a murderer may attempt to conceal a homicide by dumping the victim on railroad tracks (708, 709,711,716). Other types of injuries, aside from blunt trauma, may be seen (710). Train impact usually causes instantaneous death; however, bleeding associated with the observed blunt injuries indicates antemortem trauma (708). Extensive hemorrhage associated with scalp injuries and craniocerebral trauma is suspicious (709,716).

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