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How Do Train Accidents Happen?

Trains are common carriers. This means they transport people and/or goods for money. Common carrier operators owe higher standards of care to their passengers compared to typical drivers. Despite this high standard of care, however, many train companies and their employees are negligent in ways that cause train accidents. Discovering all the reasons most train accidents happen can help you identify your rights as a victim after a crash.

Common Types of Train Accidents

Trains might not be as common a way to travel as they were in the past, but thousands of miles of tracks still exist across the U.S. Trains are still important components in America’s economy, transporting millions of tons of freight each year. Unfortunately, train accidents still happen as well. There were 11,842 train accidents or incidents across 808 reporting railroads in 2017. This was a 3.2% increase from the previous year. Train accidents alone (rather than highway-rail accidents and other incidents) took seven lives.

The two most common types of train accidents are collisions and derailments. Collisions may occur between trains and other trains, vehicles, or pedestrians. Derailments occur when something forces a train off its rails, such as speeding or a problem along the tracks. Both types of accidents are serious and can cause life-threatening injuries to those involved. Both types often stem from someone’s negligence, such as that of a parts manufacturer or conductor. Identifying the cause of the crash can help victims recover damages.

What Causes Train Accidents?

Train accidents happen when someone in the chain of command fails to uphold his or her duties. Negligence on the part of the train manufacturer, installers, maintenance crew, conductors, engineers, other passengers, or others can all cause serious train accidents. While acts of God can also cause train accidents, most stem from someone’s negligence or breach of duty.

Several common causes of deadly train accidents in the US exist.

  • Component failure. If the owner of a train fails to properly maintain it, it could experience parts failure that causes derailment or another incident. The same is true if the owner properly maintained the train, but it contained defective or dangerous parts.
  • Track failure. Sometimes, problems with the train track, not the train, cause accidents. Derailments may occur if the track shows excessive wear and tear, such as stress fractures. It is the railroad company’s responsibility to keep the track in good repair.
  • Negligent operators. A train engineer or conductor must keep the train operating at the appropriate speed for safety reasons. Speeding or other acts of negligence could cause the train to derail and/or collide with other trains, objects, or pedestrians.

Conductor error, railway company negligence, mechanical failures, and third-party errors such as a reckless motor vehicle driver can all cause train accidents to happen. When one or more parties do not fulfill their duties of care in maintaining a train or ensuring it runs properly, accidents can happen. Victims of these accidents may have personal injury claims against one or more parties if they can prove negligence played a part in their accidents.

Who Is Liable?

If you suffered injuries in a train accident as a passenger, employee, or third party, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. The party liable for your damages depends on the crash itself. First, your lawyer will have to identify the cause of the crash. Then, your lawyer will need to identify the at-fault party for the train accident. This may be the railroad company, the owner of the train, one of the train’s employees, or a third-party driver.

The railroad company will be financially responsible for most train accidents. The company is vicariously liable for accidents that occur because of its trains, lack of maintenance, or because of negligent employees. The company will also pay out most employees who suffer injuries on the job, due to Texas’ workers’ compensation laws. Although railroad companies to not have a duty to ensure passenger safety, they must use due diligence to reasonably avoid passenger harm. Any failure to uphold this duty, resulting in a train accident, could be grounds for a lawsuit.