On May 12, 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional train headed to New York City derailed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The accident injured more than 200 passengers and killed eight others. The train was traveling around a curve at 102 mph in a 50 mph zone when it jumped the track.
Passenger trains (different from commuter rail trains which are part of an intercity transportation system) which, once upon a time, played a large and vital part in the nation’s passenger transportation network, now plays a limited role in the U.S. rail transportation that is currently dominated by freight shipments for moving imports, exports, coal and oil from one county or state to another.
Though railways are less frequently used today for passenger travel than they were many, many years ago, train accidents still occur. On the more than 600 railroads and over 140,000 crossings in the U.S., at least 2,500 train accidents occur every year, based on records from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.
While types of train accidents include derailments (the most common type), crashes with motor vehicles or with other trains, and pedestrian injuries at unprotected crossings, the most common causes of these accidents are conductor error, mechanical failure, railway negligence, a negligent motor vehicle operator, a distracted pedestrian, a stalled vehicle sitting on the tracks, and inspection or maintenance violations.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 60% of all railroad crossing accidents occur at unprotected or under-protected crossing sites – this means improperly marked crossings or crossings lacking in safety gates and light signals. Markings or signs will only tell motorists that they are approaching a railroad crossing, not whether there is a train coming. Warnings of an approaching train are made by flashing light signals and the lowering of safety gates.
Because any type of train accident can result in serious injuries or death, the Hankey Law Office, therefore, reminds everyone of how dangerous railroad crossings can be since these are locations at which trains, other vehicles, and people regularly come into close contact with each other.
Its speed will make it difficult for a train to come to a full stop just in time before it hits any unexpected obstruction in its path (such as a car). However, any type of vehicle will most likely never be an obstruction to any approaching train if there are flashing light signals and safety gates present and properly working. Unfortunately, despite the very high chance of safety provided by safety gates, there are individuals and authorities, whose duty includes putting these gates in place, who often neglect to do so in certain locations. It is this negligent act which is often the reason behind fatal railroad accidents – accidents which all negligent parties should be held accountable for.