Train Accidents & Passenger Safety

According to Amtrak, an estimated 6+ million passengers ride trains in Pennsylvania every year, making it a popular form of transportation in the state. While some may view trains as far safer than cars, trains are still involved in serious accidents. The Federal Railroad Administration reported 55 train accidents from January to October 2018 in Pennsylvania alone. Because of the number of people involved and the sheer mass of the trains themselves, any kind of accident can quickly cause serious injuries and even death.

Recent Train Accidents in Pennsylvania

Two of the most publicized train wrecks in recent history have occurred in Pennsylvania. In 2016, there was a serious accident involving an Amtrak train just outside of Philadelphia in Chester, Pennsylvania. Two people were killed and thirty-five passengers were injured, and the cause of the accident was the presence of a backhoe on the tracks. One of those killed was the backhoe operator, and both were employees of Amtrak.

Philadelphia skyline

Another well-publicized train wreck occurred in 2015 near the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia. In this accident, eight passengers were killed and 200 injured when the train derailed after accelerating from 70 mph to 105 mph as it rounded a curve. Passengers reported that the train shook, stopped, and then derailed. Many locals and passengers offered their assistance to first responders at the site of the derailment and wreckage that resulted.

The trial for the engineer held responsible, 35-year-old Brandon Bostian, took place in September 2018. He was initially charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and multiple counts of reckless endangerment for the role he played in the accident, with charges filed right before the 2-year statute of limitations. All charges were dismissed by a judge, who said there was no evidence to support criminal charges and that the accident was more than likely just that: an accident. However, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling and had the charges reinstated. His trial is set to begin on September 23, 2019. Amtrak has taken responsibility for the train crash and has also paid $265 million to settle civil claims filed by victims and their families.

Officials believe that he accelerated the train because he had lost awareness of where he was on the route after being distracted by various radio announcements regarding a nearby incident in which a train windshield was struck by a rock. No evidence was found to indicate that he was impaired or using a cell phone at the time of the accident. Many believe the accident could have been prevented by the use of automatic train control (ATC) technology that would have limited the speed of the train as it approached the curve, technology which has since been installed on that line.

The Most Common Causes of Train Accidents

Obstructions

Train tracks

The 2016 train accident is an example of one common cause of train wrecks: obstructions on the tracks. If the engineer sees them in time, the train can be stopped and an accident avoided. However, physics has the final say in whether the train can be stopped before hitting the obstacle or whether the train ends up derailing. These obstacles can be a careless driver whose car is on the tracks while a train is approaching or a pedestrian standing on the tracks. Both are very dangerous situations.

Speeding

Another common cause of train accidents is speeding, as was seen in the 2015 Amtrak derailment. When a train is going too fast, it significantly increases the chances of derailment and the number of injuries that will result.

Negligence

Negligence also causes train accidents, which could be from the railroad employees, the railroad company, a government agency that is supposed to be regulating the railroads, or even an equipment manufacturer. Equipment negligence can take many forms, from outdated safety equipment that needs to be replaced to signal lights that no longer function.

Other common source of problems, which may have played a role in the 2015 accident, is error, fatigue, or inexperience on the part of the train’s engineer. Mechanical malfunctions and failures can also result in train accidents.

Passenger Safety Tips

There are measures that can be taken to promote your safety while riding a train:

Train passenger
  • Familiarize yourself with the safety card found in the back of most train seats.
  • Use seat backs and handrails to keep your balance when walking through the train, especially when it is in motion.
  • Watch your step as you move between cars while the train is moving, and be careful when boarding and leaving the train.
  • If your shoes do not have rubber soles, be extra cautious.
  • If you get up from your seat, leave your baggage and food behind and always wear your shoes.
  • Never try to board or exit a train that is in motion and always stand back from the edge of the platform.
  • Remember to use caution when stepping over the gap between the platform and the train.

Personal Injury Lawyers for Victims of Train Accidents

If you ride trains on a regular basis, as many Pennsylvanians do, you accept that there are risks involved as with any type of transportation. When accidents do happen, they can be extremely serious. Most accidents have common causes which railroad companies and government regulation can help to minimize, but problems such as mechanical failure, engineer fatigue, and obstructions can be difficult to prevent.

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a train accident — whether that injury was a simple broken bone, or something as severe as paralysis, a brain injury, or death – there are laws in place to protect you. Contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum right away. With decades of experience in personal injury practice, we will fight to get you the compensation that the law says you deserve.