Train Accident

A train accident can cause hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. Train accidents happen more commonly than we think. Majority of these tragic accidents are avoidable. 

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

According to the United States Department of Transportation, The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is a delegate of the Secretary of Transportation. The FRA enforces the Federal railroad safety and hazardous materials transportation statutes, regulations, and orders, including civil penalty provisions codified primarily at 49 U.S.C. chs. 51 and 213. See 49 U.S.C. 103 and 49 CFR 1.89; 49 U.S.C. chs. 51, 201-213.

FRA regulates the safety of the nation’s railroad system and development of inter-city passenger rail through several means, including:

  • Legislative Rules,
  • Non-legislative Rules (Interpretive Rules and Policy Statements), and
  • Management and Procedural Rules.

Due to several fatal rail accidents between 2002 and 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-432, 122 STAT 4848). The Rail Safety Improvement Act directs the FRA to disseminate new safety regulations. These regulations govern railroad safety such as hours of service requirements for railroad workers, positive train control implementation, standards for track inspections, certification of locomotive conductors, and safety at highway-rail grade crossings.

FRA has safety regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which contain provisions establishing the agency’s authority to impose civil penalties if a person violates any requirement of a statute, regulation, or order.

The most common accidents and incidents to be reported monthly by railroads are:

  • Highway-rail grade crossing accidents/incidents.
  • Rail equipment accidents/incidents.
  • Casualties to persons (i.e., death and non-fatal injuries to all types of persons, and occupational illnesses involving railroad employees).

According to the Department of Transportation, the FRA investigates all train accidents and incidents such as:

  • Any collisions, derailment, or passenger train incident that results in at least one fatality or serious injury to railroad passengers or crew members.
  • Any railroad-related incidents that result in the death of an on-duty railroad employee including an employee of a contractor to the railroad.
  • Any highway-rail grade crossing accident that results in the following:
    • Death to one or more people being transported in a commercial vehicle or school bus.
    • Serious injury to several people being transported in a commercial vehicle or school bus.
    • Death of three or more people in a private highway vehicle.
    • Accidents that involve grade crossing signal failure or allegations of grade crossing signal failure.
  • Any non-casualty train accident resulting in derailment of a locomotive, 15 cars or more, and extensive property damage.
  • Any train accident/incident resulting in a fire, explosion, evacuation, or release of regulated hazardous materials, especially if it exposed a community to these hazards or the threat of such exposure.
  • Any accident/incident involving a train transporting nuclear materials.
  • Any train incident involving runaway or rollaway equipment, with or without locomotives.
  • Any collision involving maintenance-of-way or hi-rail equipment.
  • Any accident caused by failure of a locomotive or any part of a locomotive, or a person coming in contact with an electrically energized part that resulted in serious injury or death of one or more persons. 
  • Accidents resulting from signal failure including Positive Train Control-related failures and malfunctions.
  • Any other train accident/incident likely to generate considerable public interest.
  • Most Amtrak accidents/incidents.

Possible Train Accident Injuries

  • Broken ribs
  • Fractured neck
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Head trauma and traumatic brain injuries
  • General blunt trauma injuries
  • Broken legs
  • Amputations
  • Coma
  • Any degree of burns on the body
  • Wrongful death

Types of Train Accident Cases

  • Train accidents involving passenger vehicles
  • Train derailment accidents
  • Train accidents involving pedestrians
  • Train accidents due to equipment malfunctions
  • Train accidents involving multiple trains
  • Train accidents resulting in wrongful death

2008 Chatsworth, California Metrolink Train Accident

This incident is considered the largest commuter rail disaster in California’s history. On Friday, September 12, 2008, a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train. The incident resulted in 25 people dead and 135 people injured. Robert Sanchez, engineer, was texting from his cellphone when he ran a red light. 

Metrolink and contractor Connex Railroad paid $200 million in liabilities to the survivors and victims of the crash.

Who Is Liable For A Train Accident?

To file a successful claim, it must be shown that the at-fault party owed a duty of care, breached the duty of care, and the breach of duty caused the injury or loss. A duty of care can be breached either by intentional act or a negligent act. Companies who own and/or operate the trains may be liable for damages if the companies fail to maintain the rail cars, trains, and equipment. These companies also may be held liable if employees lacked the necessary qualifications, if proper training was not provided, or if there was a lack of supervision to their employees. Companies that manufacture train parts can be held liable if there was a manufacturing defect that caused or contributed to the wreck. A driver of a vehicle can be held liable if they left their vehicle on the track which resulted in an accident.

Compensation From Train Accident

The injured victim is entitled to full compensation for the losses and harms caused by a train accident. Damages include all economic and non-economic harms and losses.

Economic Damages

Economic damages include all past and future out-of-pocket financial expenses such as:

  • Loss of income or earning potential
  • Present and future medical bills
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages include those harms and losses that are not capable of being quantified such as:

  • Emotional pain and suffering
  • Loss of a career
  • Decrease in interest, hobbies, and activities that were once enjoyable
  • General harms to an individual’s life due to the incident

What To Do If You Are Involved Injured In A Train Accident?

  • Seek medical attention: You may be in shock due to the catastrophic event that occurred, but always make sure you seek medical attention right away. 
  • Preserve evidence: Gather as much evidence as you can. Do not solely rely on the authorities to gather evidence that may be needed for a future claim. Local authorities may not do a thorough job and it is possible evidence may not be preserved. Try to take notice of the incident and document what you see. Video is always best. If your car was hit by a train, store the car where it will be safe from tampering and deterioration.
  • Refrain from discussing the incident: Do not talk to anyone without first consulting with a train accident attorney, this includes investigators.
  • Notify your insurance company: If your car is involved in a train accident notify your insurance company. Insurance companies are there to partly protect your interest. Remember that they have their own interest to protect as well. It is always best to consult with a train accident attorney if your car is involved in a train accident.
  • Locate a qualified train accident attorney: Here at The Sterling Firm, we have qualified train accident attorneys who can advise you on the best way to secure a successful claim.

How To Prevent Train Crossing Accidents

Do not go towards any moving train. Give the train plenty of room even if you believe you are far enough away that you will not be hit by a moving train. There may be hazardous material on the train. 

Do not assume that you know the train schedule. Trains may have an alternate schedule, do not assume a train may have passed because of a schedule. Always be cautious when you are near train tracks.

Yield to a moving train. When a conductor sees a car or person on the train tracks, it’s likely too late to stop a moving train in time. Trains weigh thousands of pounds and cannot stop on a whim like a car.

Do not try to beat the train. Trains may appear to be farther away on the track than they actually are. If you hear or see a train stay off the tracks until it has passed regardless of how far away it may be. Trains may be traveling at a high rate of speed.

Railroad tracks and rail stations are not for recreation. Railroad tracks are not intended for walking, hiking, bicycling, motorcycling, taking pictures or any other activities. Fatalities often occur when people use train tracks for these purposes. These activities typically occur when people do not hear a train coming.