When a train collides with another train or a motor vehicle, it can cause catastrophic injuries and damages. Approximately 3,000 train accidents and about 1,000 fatalities from train accidents occur each year in the United States, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA is responsible for the creation and enforcement of railroad safety regulations and the oversight of railroad operations. Common carriers, or entities that transport people or goods for the public, are governed by federal and state laws which generally apply to equipment, licensing, and transportation procedures.
The FRA reports that human error is the leading cause of train accidents. Human error often leads to avoidable accidents and includes behavior such as:
Train accidents can also often be attributed to track problems such as broken welds, switches, worn rails, or damaged tracks. There are several other common causes of train accidents, including:
In addition to those in passenger vehicles at the time of a crash, there are others who may suffer injuries from train accidents. Train passengers may be injured in a crash or while they are boarding or exiting the train. Sometimes crossings do not have lights or signals and these unmarked crossings can cause unsuspecting bystanders to be injured when a train passes by. Railway workers including locomotive engineers, conductors, and switch operators may also be injured or even killed in train accidents.
Train accidents may be caused by a combination of factors; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to determine who is responsible for the resulting injuries and damages. Railroad companies are required to comply with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety regulations and may be liable if they fail to maintain the appropriate level of safety for passengers. Engineers may be responsible for personal injuries or wrongful deaths due to their negligence while performing the duties of their jobs. Also, passengers injured due to defective train or railway parts may be able to bring a state law-governed products liability case against the manufacturer, distributor, supplier, or retailer of those parts.
Railroad workers who are injured in the scope of their employment are protected by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Railroads are legally obligated to provide employees with a reasonably safe work environment, adequate monitoring, and enforcement of safety rules, and proper training and supervision. FELA requires railroads to compensate railroad employees for injuries sustained on the job due to the negligence of the carrier’s officers, agents, or employees.
It is important for members of the public to study the written instructions published by transport companies regarding regulations and suggested rules of behavior in emergency situations. In the event of an accident, victims should attempt to avoid panic and follow the crew’s instructions. It may be necessary to collaborate with authorities involved in the investigation such as rescuers, experts, and judicial authorities. Those injured in train accidents may also consider seeking legal counsel to recover all entitled damages including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.