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How Often Do Trains Derail?

Published on Sep 22, 2023 at 8:07 pm in Train Accidents.

How Often Do Trains Derail
If you regularly watch the news, it may feel as if you hear many stories about train derailments. You’re not mistaken. Trails derail quite often. While very few derailments result in someone losing their life, many catastrophic events leave individuals suffering from debilitating, permanent injuries.

One of the biggest fears that most of us have in taking public or mass transit trains is being in a situation where we’re not in control. We can’t see potential hazards that lie ahead to know when it’s not safe to proceed, nor do we know details about who’s guiding the vehicle we’re riding in. We put our faith in others to hire the right people and trust that those individuals will exercise good judgment; however, things can happen that jeopardize our lives.

What Is a Train Derailment?

A train derailment is when the locomotive car comes off its rails (the track) while it’s running. Derailments can impact any rail-based vehicle, including underground and above-ground subway trains, commuter, leisure, recreational, or freight trains, and street cars.

Train Derailment Statistics

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data shows that 54,539 train derailments occurred between 1990 and 2021. This equates to at least 1,704 annual derailments.

Notable Train Derailments in Recent History

There have been quite a few train derailments that have been catastrophic enough to make national news in recent years. Those include:

  • Amtrack Train 188: This derailment occurred in 2015 in the Philadelphia area along a route that runs between Washington, D.C. and New York City. At least 200 riders suffered injuries when the locomotive derailed. Another eight individuals lost their lives. Speed was deemed to have been responsible for this derailment. The conductor was traveling at 106 mph before applying his brake to slow the locomotive to 102 mph when the train hit a curve, causing the train to derail.
  • Amtrack’s Southwest Chief: This derailment occurred this summer in rural Missouri because the train struck a dump truck that stopped along the railroad crossing. This derailment injured 150 and killed four.

These are only two of the worst train derailment crashes that have occurred in the past 20 years in the United States. The others have left behind many injured individuals or fatalities, though.

What Are the Primary Causes of Train Derailments?

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency within the DOT, keeps track of the different causes of train derailments. Some of the most common ones (in rank order) include:

Track-Related Concerns

Track-related defects are the leading cause of train derailments in Chicago, and elsewhere throughout the U.S. Various track-related issues can contribute to train derailments. Some of the most common factors that do include:

  • Track geometry or wide gauge issues
  • Broken rails or welds
  • Poor interaction between train and track
  • Joint bar defects

Data shows that broken rails or welds cause 50% or more track-related train derailments.

Mechanical and Maintenance Issues

The second most common contributing factor to train accidents is equipment failure. Some of the train’s components most likely to experience performance issues or failure include:

  • Wheels
  • Bearings
  • Brakes
  • Electrical systems

While many of these performance issues affect the locomotive, it’s not uncommon for automobiles to become disabled on train tracks due to maintenance issues. Conductors may be unable to stop the train in time to avoid striking the vehicle. However, in their attempt to do so, they may cause the locomotive’s derailment. Some automobile components that often leave motorists stranded on railroad tracks include:

  • Tire or axle issues
  • Broken bearings
  • Alternator or starter issues
  • Electrical system failures
  • Battery issues
  • Timing belt issues
  • Steering wheel issues
  • Transmission or engine problems

Conductor Error

The third leading contributing factor to train derailments is human error. Negligence a conductor or others responsible for safe locomotive operations may engage in that may result in a derailment includes:

  • Allowing oneself to become distracted by cell phones or something else
  • Speeding
  • Operating a train while intoxicated or fatigued
  • Not obeying posted safety signage or signals
  • Incorrectly setting track switches
  • Not having open lines of communication with colleagues
  • Violations of mainline or switching rules

Human error among motorists can also give way to train accidents that cause derailments. These collisions often occur because motorists think they have enough time to cross over the tracks ahead of the locomotive’s arrival, even though signals warn them that the train will pass by soon.

Environmental Issues

Various weather or terrain conditions are the fourth leading cause of train derailments.

While situations like avalanches or rockslides are perhaps less likely to affect locomotives traveling through Chicago and other parts of Illinois, they play a role in other parts of the country. Other factors such as rain, ice, snow, flash flooding, and high winds are common factors that conductors must contend with when traveling through Chicago and the rest of our state.

Unless a conductor is prepared for these weather phenomena and experienced in navigating them, a derailment may occur.

Injuries Riders Suffer in Train Accidents

Derailments not only cause train cars to become dislodged from their tracks but can also cause them to turn over on their side or roof and collide, causing impact or fire damage. Since most of these accidents happen unexpectedly, riders are often not strapped into their seats or beds. There’s a strong chance their bodies may be shifted about when a derailment occurs, thus causing them more debilitating injuries.

Some of the most common injuries individuals involved in train derailments suffer include:

  • Blunt force trauma injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions
  • Internal organ damage, resulting in internal bleeding
  • Broken bones, like fractured limbs or broken ribs
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Compression or crush injuries, often resulting in amputation
  • Spinal cord injuries

Some victims who are fortunate enough to survive a train crash don’t only end up suffering physical injuries but also receive mental health diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from what they went through.

How Our Train Accident Lawyers Can Help if You’ve Been Hurt

A train derailment or other accident can instantly change your life, robbing you of the functionality your body has long afforded you or depriving you of a loved one. These losses don’t just cause you physical pain or take an emotional toll on you but also come at a financial cost.

The attorneys at Krzak Rundio Gorman, Injury Attorneys can help you recover the compensation necessary to cover your medical bills or any funeral or burial costs associated with your loved one’s wrongful death. We can also assist you in seeking compensation for pain and suffering or mental anguish, and other losses stemming from the train derailment accident.

To learn more, reach out to the lawyers at Krzak Rundio Gorman, Injury Attorneys today to discuss your potential case and your legal rights.

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