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Top 10 Causes of Train Accidents

by | Last updated Feb 25, 2022

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As a kid, we all wanted to be a train conductor; some of us spent hours in our basements building train sets; we fell in love with the Lineal Train Sets, the “HO gauge,” then the “O Gauge” sets. Still, model trains are great to look at and build, but the real danger is not in the amount of money we spend on model trains but on the actual trains that can weigh anywhere from 4,000 lbs. to over 20,000lbs. we can encounter on a daily basis.

There are various types of trains; you have subway system trains that you see in NYC, transit train systems in airports worldwide, commuter trains that take passengers from point a to b, and commercial freight trains that move products across our great country. However, trains are dangerous, and we should all be acutely aware of the damages trains can cause.

The attorneys at Shiner Law Group help victims who were injured as a result of train accidents. If you or a loved one have been hurt in a train accident, call and speak to one of our attorneys today!

Freight trains make up the majority of train accidents today, followed by commuter trains. Most trains today operate with fewer than six people on board during a train trip. On commuter rails, you may have an engineer, the one who operates the train, two conductors, who handle the general operation and safety measures during the commute, several ticket conductors, those that go up and down the aisles to collect your tickets and money and an assistant conductor or “brakeman.”

Freight trains operate with three to four operators, an engineer, a Conductor, and a brakeman. For such a large operation, the number of cars, the number of passengers and freight being carried, and the number of actual people on board a train trip are surprisingly low.

Top 10 Causes of Train Accidents

Common Train Accidents

The most common type of train accidents which occur each year are train derailments followed by train collisions. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, on average, there are roughly 1800 train accidents each year, a majority of these accidents causing severe injuries, with an average of more than 5 to 7 fatalities each year. As an example, in 2019, there were 1848 train accidents, with 1283 train derailments and 115 train collisions; there were 450 classified as other. These train accidents resulted in 57 injuries and four fatalities. The previous year, 2018, there were 1934 train accidents, with 1375 train derailments and 86 train collisions; there were 473 classified as other. These train accidents resulted in 204 injuries and seven fatalities.

Although injuries and deaths from train accidents keep going down each year, one serious injury and one death are far too many for the lawyers at Shiner Law Group. This may be why train accidents are not viewed as major threats to public safety, and we know those train accidents can have a serious impact on our clients’ lives. Injuries associated with trains require a law firm that is focused on helping people who were injured or hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence such as the expertise of the lawyers at Shiner Law Group.

Causes of Train Accidents

Although every accident is unique, the most common causes of train accidents are as follows:

  • Negligence on behalf of the Train conductor, engineer, or individuals who work on the tracks;
  • Human error;
  • Reckless pedestrians and drivers;
  • Mechanical failures;
  • Trains that operate too fast for the conditions;
  • Defective tracks;
  • Derailments;
  • Unprotected railroad crossings;
  • Stalled cars on the track; and
  • Suicide.

Negligence – Train accidents caused by negligence can be blamed on a variety of factors such as the railway company, the engineer, Conductor or other railroad employees, or the rail maintenance operator, or the train accident could have been caused by the equipment itself, sometimes the signal could have failed and the crossing arms may not have operated properly. In the event of a train crash or injury, it is important to immediately demand and request that the train company preserve all materials related to the operation of the train.

Human Error – this could be due to poorly trained rail employees, long hours, just as human error car and truck accidents, human error can be the cause of train accidents. For instance, a conductor may leave their required location and not see a stalled vehicle on the tracks, which would most likely result in an avoidable accident.

Pedestrian and automobile drivers – train accidents are not always the fault of the railroad, rail operator, engineers, or rail employees; it could be due to the negligence of pedestrians or drivers. When pedestrians are not paying attention or drivers are distracted, collisions could occur.

Mechanical failures – in some cases, defective parts used to maintain equipment, signals, rails, etc., may be at fault. With all of the precautions being taken by the rail operator, sometimes unforeseen circumstances may occur beyond the control of the rail operators. For instance, if the train tracks are not inspected regularly, debris or materials on the tracks could cause a train to derail or “jolt” causing injuries to the passengers on board or nearby the tracks.

Fast Trains – speedy trains that are being operated above the posted legal speed may not have enough time to slow down or may cause a derailment, and this could lead to serious injuries and sometimes death. Trains are large and powerful; the force of a train can have fatal consequences. It may take some trains miles to get up to speed, however, because trains weigh so much, it can reasonably take even longer for a train to come to a complete stop. Thus, it is important that trains do not speed or travel to fast for the conditions – such as in city limits or when there is inclement weather.

Defective tracks/ obstruction on the tracks – at times, tracks not installed properly can have serious consequences; trees, pipes, or other objects could fall on the tracks and can have serious repercussions. Tracks must be inspected regularly in order to ensure everyone’s safety. Requests for train track inspections is something that should be done if there is cause to believe that the tracks caused or contributed to the crash or injury.

Derailments – objects on the track, speedy trains, engineer or Conductor Error, defective parts can all be a cause of trains derailing and causing serious injuries.

Railroad crossings without crossing arms or warning signals – in most cases, when tracks and roads collide, railroad crossing arms help signal drivers and pedestrians a train is approaching; however, with the number of drivers and roads and crossing points, not all crossings can have crossing arms or signals, those without these warning signs could be dangerous, especially for the oncoming traffic or pedestrians not paying attention. In some instances, there are cameras at these locations which can assist in recreating the issues that led to the injuries.

Stalled vehicles on the tracks – in some cases, cars get stuck on the track, and drivers cannot get their vehicles or themselves out of the way fast enough. If this occurs, try starting your vehicle again; if that does not work, place your car in neutral and try pushing your vehicle off the track; finally, if all else fails and a train is approaching, abandon your vehicle and get out of the way.

Suicides – unfortunately, some people choose to end their lives by standing in front of an oncoming train or another vehicle, sometimes they stop their vehicle on the tracks; not only does this affect the individuals’ life, but it may affect the lives of bystanders as well. This said, in some cases the conductor of the train may still bear some responsibility since they may be able to stop the train in time before the collision.

What does a Train Engineer do?

An engineer drives the train, controls the speed, handling, and braking. The engineer is certified and must be renewed every three years. The engineer is responsible for the entire operation of the train and is expected to know and understand the characteristics of the train, the track (track layout, curves, inclines, declines, speed limits, signals, crossings, etc.), various stations, other train schedules, etc.

What does a Train Conductor Do?

The Conductor is the operational and safety expert; he or she is responsible for everything other than the physical operation of the train. On commuter rails, the conductors collect tickets; however, on a freight train, the Conductor ensures the cargo is picked up and delivered timely and to the right customers. Additionally, on both the freight and commuter rails, the Conductor keeps the train running on schedule, keeps accurate records of passengers and freight, ensures safety measures and protocols are being maintained, and other functions such as helping to decouple trains and minor repairs during transit.

Do trains still have brakemen?

The short answer is yes, but they do not control the breaks of a train anymore; today, the modern brakeman functions as an assistant conductor.

Train Accidents and The length of Trains

The length of the train is critical when we evaluate a train accident case; the length of the train is vital to understanding the safety concerns going into the operation of any train. While we understand moving people and goods is vital, so is the safety of those being transported and by standards. The length of the train affects the time it takes to stop the train, also the velocity of the train.

Unfortunately, in the US, there are no legal limits of how long a train must be nor on how heavy load trains can carry. As an example, a 180-car train is roughly two and a quarter miles long. With more than one locomotive, the train can operate more cars making the train much longer.

How long does it take a Train to Stop?

If an average freight train is a mile in a half long, and moving around 55 MPH, it could take a mile or more to stop a train. A passenger train with 8 cars and a locomotive, traveling around 80 MPH needs a mile to stop. However, every freight train and commercial passenger train is different, depending on the length of the train (number of cars), the weight of each car, the weight of the load, how fast the train is traveling, as well as the track incline or decline.

Injuries from Train Accidents

Given the size and weight and force of a moving train, an impact with a vehicle or a pedestrian can be devastating. Additionally, passengers and crew aboard a moving train could be injured, however maybe less severe than those injured in the vehicle or a pedestrian.

Common catastrophic injuries from train accidents are as follows:

  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Amputations
  • Severe Brain or traumatic brain Injuries
  • Head trauma
  • Fractured neck injuries
  • Blindness
  • Organ damage

In some instances, death can occur, in a case involving a family loved one, contact the lawyers at Shiner Law Group to discuss your potential wrongful death case today.

Other injuries are:

  • Broken ribs
  • Broken bones
  • Neck injuries
  • Wrist and shoulder tears and injuries
  • Burns, scraps and bruising

If you have been injured in a train derailment or train impact call the lawyers at Shiner Law Group, P.A. today.

Passenger trains and commercial freight trains owe their customers as well as the public the highest duty of care, especially when operating heavy machinery that can cause debilitating injuries.

Knowing How Trains Operate and those Involved in Operating Trains is Important

The personal injury lawyers at Shiner Law Group understand the complexities of running a train, we understand those who work the trains, we understand the companies that operate trains, and we understand the terminology used during the investigation and legal negotiations of any accident claims. We are the lawyers south Florida turns to when a train accident in Florida occurs. Call the Florida Train lawyers at Shiner Law Group at 561-777-7700.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a train accident, call the law office of Shiner Law Group and speak to one of our experienced train accident lawyers today.

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