Train Accidents – Common Causes and Safety

train accident 2 killed outside philadephia

Courtesy of Mainline Media News

Train accidents are not usually considered a major threat, but when they do occur, they can result in any number of serious injuries or even death. Trains are still commonly used by people all over the country, especially commuter trains and subways, as a cheaper, more efficient means of getting to and from work. The United States has over 600 railroads, and, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, an average of 5,000 train accidents occur each year. An Amtrak disaster was just recently in the news when a train partially derailed outside of Philadelphia in Chester, Pennsylvania on April 3, killing two railroad workers and injuring 35 passengers. In May 2015, a disastrous Amtrak derailment occurred along the eastern corridor in Philadelphia killing 8 people and injuring 200. The train had inexplicably accelerated from 70 to 105 mph; when it rounded a curve, the train derailed, resulting in one the most devastating train accidents this century.

Common Causes of Train Accidents

train crashes into motor vehicleTrain accidents occur as a result of derailment, collisions with other trains and vehicles, and the interference of bystanders or vehicles at train crossings. Here are some of the causes of these accidents:
  • Negligence – Negligence may be assessed on the part of the railway itself, the railroad employees, a government agency, or equipment manufacturers. Examples of railway negligence include the faulty operation of a crossing arm or the failure of a signal light to provide adequate warning. Unfortunately, there are many instances of outdated railway safety technology; though the science is ready and available, the railway may not have gotten around to implementing it.
  • Conductor Error, Inexperience, or Fatigue – Human error is always a potential factor in any accident. Poor judgement and impaired reactions have contributed to many avoidable train disasters.
  • Mechanical Failure – Despite the railway’s best efforts to maintain the infrastructure of the tracks, trains, and operating systems, mechanical failure, however slim, can result in a train derailment or collision.
  • High Speeds – As shown by the horrifying Amtrak train accident in 2015 that killed 8 people, the faster the train is moving, the worse the consequences are if it crashes. Derailments are more likely if the train is traveling at high speeds and the severity of injuries are exponentially increased.
  • Irresponsible or Negligent Pedestrian or Motor Vehicle Operator – In rare cases, a pedestrian or vehicle may be on or near the tracks at the wrong time, causing the conductor to react suddenly or the train to derail.
  • Obstruction on the Tracks – In some cases, foreign objects, such as vehicles or equipment, may be left inadvertently in the path of an oncoming train; if the conductor fails to see them or is going to fast, he or she may not be able to avoid striking them, causing an accident. This is what precipitated the Chester Amtrak train disaster on April 3 of this year, when a passenger train collided with a backhoe, killing the 2 railroad construction workers operating it.

Railway Safety and Regulations for Train Accidents

train crash chester paRailroad companies are obligated to do everything within reason to ensure the safety of their passengers and railroad workers alike. Passenger safety is protected under state law. As with an airplane crash, when a train accident occurs, the first thing that’s recovered is the black box, which details the train’s speed, direction, and other key indicators of what went wrong. The black box is critical to proving negligence on the part of the railway if the case goes to trial. Not only are safeguards in place to ensure passenger well-being, but railway workers have their own protections as well. The Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) oversees the rights of railway workers injured in the line of duty. On behalf of workers, FELA guarantees a safe work environment that includes sufficient training and vigilant supervision. FELA also ensures that, if a railway worker dies and the railway is proven negligent, surviving family members are well compensated. railway safetyIn addition to train accidents, passengers may be injured when they board or leave the train. Bystanders can also be victims of train accidents. Almost a quarter of all railroad crossings are unmarked, leaving unwary pedestrians and drivers at these high-risk intersections between track and road vulnerable to collision. Train derailments and cargo cars carrying hazardous materials can also injure or kill bystanders.

Have You Been Involved in a Train Accident?

Injuries suffered in a train crash run the gamut between broken bones and spinal injuries to paralysis and brain damage. It is crucial that a passenger involved in a train accident seek counsel immediately; as with any personal injury lawsuit, the Statute of Limitations is one of the primary determining factors in a claim’s validity. Injured passengers can incur costly medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional trauma if they don’t receive adequate compensation. If you or your loved one has been involved in a train accident, and are suffering injuries or psychological trauma as a result, please contact Donaghue & Labrum immediately. Our personal injury lawyers are committed to seeking compensatory damages on your behalf so you can best meet the challenges of the future.