Common Causes of Train Accidents in the U.S.

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of John H. (Jack) Hickey with Hickey Law Firm.

Common Causes of Train Accidents in the U.S.
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Although trains are becoming less popular modes of transportation for human beings, they are still used to move cargo of all types around the country, and in some areas are still used by passengers traveling from one city to another. Drivers are expected to exercise additional caution when approaching a railway crossing, as well as to abide by any warning signs or lights in the vicinity. Like any moving vehicle, trains are subject to accidents; however, railway accidents can be particularly catastrophic, and a number of parties could be liable depending on the circumstances of the event.

Some of the most common causes of train accidents include:

  • Negligence: Like any industry, the railway industry is required to abide by certain rules and regulations regarding the safe operation of trains and actions of their conductors. Railway stations themselves as well as those who maintain and operate the schedule are also required to follow certain rules guaranteeing that conductors, passengers, other trains, and vehicles will be as safe as possible at all times. If a railroad worker in any area fails to do their job correctly, the consequences could be serious.
  • Human error: Poor judgment, vision, fatigue, and inexperience on the part of the train conductor can all contribute to dangerous situations. Just as a simple mistake made by a driver can cause an accident, so too can an error made by a train conductor; however, trains are larger, faster, and require much more time to come to a complete stop, so it can be harder to rectify a mistake in time to avoid the consequences.
  • Reckless driving: Drivers of standard passenger vehicles are also expected to abide by the rules of the road. When a driver operates their vehicle recklessly, such as ignoring safety signs and passing over the tracks when it is not safe to do so, or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the driver could collide with or get in the way of a moving train. At that point, there may be little the train conductor can do to prevent the collision.
  • Mechanical failure: Every piece of equipment and machinery on a train or railway needs to be working correctly at all times. Broken or defective machinery could lead to extremely dangerous situations for everyone involved. For example, if a piece of guidance equipment like a railway switch or signal fails to work properly, a collision could be imminent.
  • Defective tracks: The tracks on which a train travels need to be inspected and properly repaired on a regular basis. Tracks that are broken or obstructed by large debris can derail a train and/or cause a catastrophic collision.
    Unprotected railway crossings: Railway crossings typically include barriers, flashing lights, and in some cases even audible cues to alert drivers and pedestrians to the approach of a train. When the lights flash and the barriers lower, drivers and pedestrians know to stop and let the train pass. However, if a railway crossing does not have these or other adequate protections, and an accident occurs, the party responsible for designing the crossing could be liable.
  • Stalled vehicles: Some vehicles, particularly those with a standard transmission, may stall out when a driver slows down to cross bump terrain, such as when passing over railway tracks. However, if a car stalls out on or near the tracks and cannot be started again, the consequences can be deadly. In this situation, if there is no train on the way, it’s recommended to put the car in neutral and push it off the tracks. However, if there is a train coming, drivers and passengers are advised to exit the vehicle and move far away as quickly as possible.

To learn more about train accidents or for help discussing your legal options if you were injured in a train accident, reach out to a train accident attorney in your state.

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