California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

803. Regulating Speed

[A railroad company] [A train operator] must use reasonable care to control the train’s speed as it approaches and passes through a railroad crossing. The [railroad company] [train operator] must control train speed with due regard for the safety of human life and property, taking into consideration the location and conditions of the crossing.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

This instruction may not be appropriate in certain cases. Regulations adopted by the Secretary of Transportation pursuant to the Federal Railroad Safety Act preempt state common-law negligence claims based on general allegations of “excessive speed.” (CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Easterwood (1993) 507 U.S. 658, 675 [113 s.Ct. 1732, 123 L.Ed.2d 387].) However, a negligence action based on a duty to slow or stop a train to avoid a specific, individual hazard is not preempted. (CSX Transportation, Inc., supra, 507 U.S. at 676, fn. 15.)

Sources and Authority

  • “We hold that . . . federal regulations adopted by the Secretary of Transportation pre-empt respondent’s negligence action only insofar as it asserts that petitioner’s train was traveling at an excessive speed.” (CSX Transportation, Inc., supra, 507 U.S. at p. 676.)
  • “While it is true that no rate of speed is negligence per se in the absence of a statute or ordinance, it does not follow that a railroad company will be permitted to run its trains under all conditions at any rate of speed it may choose. It must regulate its speed with proper regard for the safety of human life and property, especially when running through towns and cities. . . . [T]he question whether or not a rate of speed is excessive is one of fact for the jury.” (Young v. Pacific Electric Ry. Co. (1929) 208 Cal. 568, 572–573 [283 P. 61].)
  • “The ‘reasonably prudent person’ test applies also to the speed at which a train approaches and passes a crossing, and material in the application of that test is ‘that no unnecessary risk shall be cast upon the public’ considering the ‘location and surroundings’ of the crossing involved. Specially mentioned is a ‘crossing in a thickly populated community and extensively used.’ ” (Rice v. Southern Pacific Co. (1967) 247 Cal.App.2d 701, 707 [55 Cal.Rptr. 840], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[I]t is for the jury to say whether the speed of a train was too high for a particular intersection.” (Romo v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 909, 916 [139 Cal.Rptr. 787].)
  • Even when crossing protection is provided and the company speed limit is not exceeded, speeding is still a question of fact. (Herrera v. Southern Pacific Co. (1957) 155 Cal.App.2d 781, 787 [318 P.2d 784].)

Secondary Sources

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) Railroad Crossings, § 12.5

2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 23, Carriers, § 23.26[6] (Matthew Bender)

42 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 485, Railroads, § 485.64 (Matthew Bender)