How Do Train Accidents Happen?

If you look at the recent history of train accidents, there’s likely one fact that will strike you: Each of them was preventable. It goes without saying, then, that when they do happen, it’s largely because someone made an absolutely devastating mistake. Too often this mistake takes lives. Simple adherence to basic safety measures would have saved a number of lives.

Although not all accidents are the same, many are caused by similar factors, as detailed below. If you have been injured in a train accident, we urge you to contact us today for legal assistance.

Common Types of Train Accidents

The most common types of train accidents include the following:

Causes of Derailments

When train derailments happen it almost always caused by one of two factors. Either there is a problem somewhere with the tracks or the train was simply moving too fast for that part of the track.

  • Speeding. Recently, there was a major derailment in Taiwan. The accident killed 18 people. What was the cause? The train was moving too fast for that section of the track. Many folks don’t realize that, just like roads, railroad tracks have speed limits. Different sections of a railroad track have different speed limits. When the conductor does not follow the speed limit, the train runs a very high risk of running itself right off the tracks. The train company is responsible for the conduct of its employees under the law.
  • Track failure. In other cases, however, the derailment is caused by a problem with the tracks themselves. In July of 2012, a train derailed in Columbus, Ohio carrying several tons of denatured ethanol. Due to the explosive nature of the cargo, massive fires broke requiring 100 Columbus residents to evacuate the area. The investigation revealed several factors that caused the derailment. Those include simple wear and tear to the track in the area that it derailed as well as stress fractures from rolling contact and deformation of the track itself. The railroad company is responsible for ensuring the track is in good repair before allowing a train that weighs several thousand tons to carry heavy loads across it.
  • Train component failure. Wheel failure was blamed in a CSX train derailment that occurred in Washington D.C. Of the 175 cars in the train, 14 of them derailed spilling hazardous chemicals along the landscape. This included 700 gallons of sodium hydroxide and the highly flammable chemical ethanol. The FRA determined that the “journal” portion of the axle failed in the first car to derail causing 14 cars behind it to pull off the tracks as well. The train was only traveling at 27 mph at the time of the failure. The train company is responsible for conducting checks prior to allowing the train to travel across the tracks.
  • Dangerous Crossings. At some crossings, obscured or skewed sight lines coupled with high speed trains can result in unknowing traps for motorists at crossings. These trap crossings required the installation install active warning devices, including lights and gates. Too often railroads ignore the legal responsibility and place the sole responsibility for installing these safety devices on the road authority.  Railroads and the local road authority have a joint responsibility for inspecting crossings and ensuring they are reasonably safe for motorists or pedestrians.

Filing a Lawsuit with the Help of a Train Accident Attorney

The office of Pottroff & Karlin, LLC helps train accident victims recover damages for their injuries when the rail’s negligence is to blame for an accident. Chances are good that if you’ve been injured in a train accident, there was something that the rail could have done to prevent it from occurring. Most rail accidents are avoidable. Give us a call or talk to us online to set up an appointment.

Railroad News
November 14, 2020

Arizona Motorist Killed at Dangerous, Unguarded Union Pacific Crossing

October 29, 2020

Wichita, Kansas Motorist Killed and Passenger Seriously Injured at Unguarded BNSF Crossing


Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert SchuetzeBoulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

Mike EasleyArkansas

Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger BrownJefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth HardyLake Charles, Louisiana

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