North Carolina has over 3,300 miles of railroad tracks, with Amtrak trains visiting up to 16 cities daily – including Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte. Additionally, there are over 20 freight railroads in the state, each carrying and delivering as much freight as several hundred semi-trucks combined.
Trains have the duty to deliver passengers, as well as goods and materials, without endangering the lives of those on board and off. Unfortunately, train accidents occur far more frequently than many may realize, resulting in severe injuries and other damages, and even death. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were 11,298 total accidents in 2016, with over 750 fatalities and 8,500 injuries.
If you, or someone you know, was injured or killed due to a train accident, contact us, or call us at 1-866-900-7078 for a FREE case evaluation from North Carolina personal injury lawyers.
Primary Causes of Train Accidents
There are three primary types of train or railroad accidents, involving passenger and freight trains:
- Collisions with other trains
- Collisions with passenger vehicles
These types of accidents can occur en route, but more often they occur at railroad crossings. Despite this frequency, as many as 80% of railroad crossings don’t have adequate warning devices.
According to Operation Lifesaver, over 1,000 injuries and 265 deaths occurred at railroad crossings in 2016. It can take a train, which can weigh up to 6,000 tons, more than a mile to come to a stop — that’s the length of 18 football fields. Consequently, train operators often don’t see pedestrians or vehicles on the tracks until it is too late.
Additionally, due to leaps in technology and machinery, trains have become much quieter and less noticeable to pedestrians, thus giving the illusion that they are further away and approaching slower than they really are, opening the door for more close calls and dangerous situations.
Here are some common causes of train accidents for which injured victims have sued.
Negligence and Human Error
Train operators (engineers), the train/railroad company, and the crew onboard a train could all potentially be held liable for train accidents.
Negligence and human error on the parts of the operator and crew are becoming more common and can include:
Error or mistakes behind the controls. Human error likely played a key role in the deadly CSX and Amtrak collision in February 2018 in Cayce, SC, reported the National Transportation Safety Board. It was one of the most catastrophic train crashes in South Carolina’s history, with more 100 people injured and two deaths. At the time of the crash the Amtrak train was carrying 139 passengers many who were from the Triangle area. The report says a switch on the track was in the wrong position, sending the Amtrak train onto a side track where a CSX freight train was parked. This was the fourth fatal Amtrak collision in just two months.
Disregard of safety standards. A lawsuit filed against CSX regarding the Cayce, SC, crash alleges the crash was caused by “gross negligence” and “reckless disregard” of safety standards by CSX. According to the Charlotte Observer, the lawsuit alleges that CSX defied a 2008 federal law, called the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which called upon railroad companies to install safety technology called “positive train control.” That technology was to be in place nationwide by the end of 2015, but many rail companies have yet to install it. Sadly, the Cayce derailment happened after rail employees had temporarily taken down the signalization of the CSX line so they could install the positive train control technology. They effectively took a signaled line and made it “dark territory” without putting speed restrictions on the line or restricting commuter (as opposed to freight) traffic.
Speeding. In 2015 eight passengers died and more than 200 suffered injuries as an Amtrak train traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York derailed traveling 106 mph around a 50-mph curve. An NTSB investigation determined the engineer was distracted by radio chatter from other train operators and did not notice his excessive speed.
Fatigue. The NTSB announced that severe, untreated sleep apnea led to two recent train wrecks – one in New Jersey in 2016 and another in New York in 2017. Combined, these wrecks killed one passenger and injured more than 200. In both incidents severe fatigue caused the engineers to fail to stop their trains before reaching the end of a terminating track. The NTSB recommends that train operators in “safety-sensitive” positions be screened for sleep apnea.
Distraction. In 2008, a Los Angeles Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided head-on killing 25 passengers and injuring more than 100. The NTSB determined that the Metrolink engineer, who was among those killed, was texting on his phone. This distraction led him to fail to stop the train at a red signal. Texting or using wireless devices while operating a Metrolink train is prohibited.
Faulty Machinery and Poor Maintenance
Trains require important, reliable equipment, and thorough maintenance. Yet, faulty machinery and poor maintenance of the trains themselves and the tracks they travel on frequently contribute to railroad accidents. Equipment can include anything from the train systems, engines, faulty or unkempt tracks, and defective signals and gates at railroad crossings.
Derailments can occur due to faulty tracks, faulty equipment, obstacles on the tracks, and excessive cargo weight.
Injury and Damages
Train accident victims may be passengers, pedestrians, drivers and passengers of other vehicles, and railroad employees. Common injuries include:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Head injuries
- Broken bones
- Amputations or disfigurement
- Inhalation of toxic fumes
There may also be damages to property, such as homes or vehicles. Even a “minor” incident with a train could have catastrophic consequences on both people and property.
North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Offer FREE Case Evaluation
Train accidents occur more often than you might imagine and it seems we hear about them more and more. If you or someone you love has been injured in a train accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering, emotional and physical distress, and more. Contact us, or call 1-866-900-7078 for a FREE case evaluation.