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Railways sued over Arborg man’s death

Winnipeg Sun
July 2006

An Arborg couple has launched a lawsuit against two railroad companies and the State of Minnesota, alleging their 21-year-old son’s fatal collision with a freight train last year shouldn’t have happened.

Robbie Johnson, 21, died instantly on Jan. 28, 2005, when his semi — carrying a load of crushed cars — collided with a Northern Plains freight train hauling grain on U.S. Highway 59 near Thief River Falls, Minn. Both Minnesota State Patrol and a Pennington County attorney confirmed in the days following the crash that warning lights at the crossing weren’t working at the time.


Johnson’s father, David, filed a suit July 17 in a Pennington County district court against Northern Plains Railroad, the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the State of Minnesota. The suit alleges an operating licence issued by the state to the railroad requires the presence of a flagman at the crossing 24 hours a day if the signals are not operating.

Al Rogalla, assistant attorney for the county, told the Sun in February 2005 that railway workers followed procedure appropriately prior to the crash, which derailed the train. No criminal charges were ever laid in the incident.


The train stopped before it got to the intersection, then the train’s conductor … waved the train through," he said at the time. "(Johnson) must not have seen the train."

Northern Plains president Gregg Haug previously said the train’s crew followed procedures laid out by the U.S. Railroad Administration.

"In this case, they stopped and actually waited for one car to clear," Haug told the Sun last year. "There were no other cars that they could see, so they started through the crossing again. That’s when (Johnson’s) truck must have hit." CPR has been named because it leases approximately 640 km of track in North Dakota and Minnesota to Northern Plains.

Johnson’s family has asked for damages of at least $50,000 from each defendant.

Paul E. Godlewski of the law firm Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A. represents the family of Robbie Johnson.

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