With ridership on Amtrak and passenger trains rising, accidents remain a major issue for the public.
In 2017, roughly 14 people were killed a week by trains in the United States alone. Another nearly 7,000 people suffered nonfatal injuries, according to Federal Railroad Administration.
With the nation currently in the midst of a massive railway expansion and a growing number of people using railroads for travel, the amount of train-related accidents is expected to stay high.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Changes to regulation, more efficient track maintenance and better training for train operators can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a lawsuit after an accident for railroad service providers to make the change.
Types of Train Accidents
The most well-known types of train accidents are derailments because that’s what gets the most news coverage. The reality is that the vast majority of deaths and injuries come from incidents that don’t make the headlines.
Train accidents can range from mild to catastrophic. An accident can be anything from a slip on a wet spot to a head-on collision with another train. Here are just a few the types of train accidents:
- Train collisions
- Collisions at crossings
- Pedestrians hit by trains
The causes of accidents are just as varied as the type of accidents. Some of the most common causes include (but are not limited to):
- Human error
- Tired rail employees
- Poorly trained operators
- Equipment defect
- Brake failure
- Signal failure
- Track failure
- Improper maintenance
- Conductor negligence
- Unauthorized access
Victims of accidents are not limited to passengers of trains either. People affected by accidents can include railroad service employees, conductors, and passersby.
Amtrak’s Long History with Accidents
Amtrak is one of the largest passenger rail services in the United States. Founded in 1971, the company serves more than 30 million passengers each year and receives funding from the government.
The railway company was created with the help of the government to save the railway industry after interest in passenger trains waned during the 1960s. Since then, the train industry has survived but not without struggling to secure funding and cut through the bureaucracy.
Despite a spike in ridership, Amtrak has stumbled along the way. Aside from being bogged down in political fights, the company has been the subject of several high-profile accidents over the years.
Since its inception, Amtrak has had nine major accidents that resulted in deaths and injuries. The deadliest accident in Amtrak history occurred in 1993 after a train derailed in Alabama, killing 47 people and injuring 103.
Amtrak Lawsuit Filed in 2015 Philadelphia Accident
In 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional train carrying 238 passengers derailed in Philadelphia. The entire train left the track, and three cars rolled on their side, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 others.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation into the accident and found that the engineer driving the train had accelerated to a speed of 106 miles per hour on a curve with a limit of 50 miles per hour.
At a hearing in 2016, the NTSB concluded that the engineer was distracted by radio chatter and lost “situational awareness” right before the crash occurred.
Shortly after the accident, an Amtrak worker filed a lawsuit against his employer after suffering head trauma. Four passengers filed their lawsuit against Amtrak the week after, accusing the company and the engineer of negligence.
Amtrak Agrees to Pay $265 Million Train Settlement.
More people filed lawsuits against Amtrak for the Philadelphia crash over the following months. Eventually, the cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
As a result of legislation that capped the damages from train derailments to $295 million, Amtrak agreed to a $265 million settlement with victims of the derailment in 2016.
“This outcome is historic, not only because of the result but because of the relatively short period of time — from inception of litigation to reaching this agreement — and actual compensation to the victims,” Robert J. Mongeluzzi, a lawyer representing plaintiffs, said in a statement at the time. “While no amount of compensation can replace the loss of human life, or heal the injured, it is immensely significant that the legal aspect of an incident of this magnitude will be resolved in a fraction of the time it could have taken.”
2017 Washington Train Accident Causes Deaths & Injuries
Despite minor changes made to procedures and trains following the Philadelphia crash, another derailment occurred in Washington in December 2017.
Similar to the Philadelphia accident, the engineer was traveling nearly 50 miles per hour over the speed limit when the train derailed, killing three people and injuring 62 others.
The first lawsuits against Amtrak over the Washington train accident were filed in January 2018. The lawsuits blamed Amtrak for negligence and inadequate training of employees.