How Do Train and Railroad Accidents Happen?

Accidents involving heavy machinery like trains can be extremely frightening. Dangerous accidents that occur are commonly the consequence of some type of human-based mistake. The preventability of train accidents almost makes their rate of incidence sobering, knowing that most of these accidents were avoidable. Traveling by train, for some, is a necessary part of their work commute. Unfortunately, these individuals could find themselves at the mercy of several different potential train-related accidents.

Common Types of Train Accidents

Not many types of train-related accidents exist. This is good, considering many train accidents result in bodily injury and/or death.

  • Derailments – Derailments involve instances in which the train exits its railroad track. Depending on the location, this can cause extensive property damage, pedestrian injury and/or death, and passenger injury. Factors like location and speed of the train determine the severity of a derailment.
  • Train-on-train collisions – These collisions occur when two trains travel on the same railroad track. In many cases, train-on-train collisions reflect a larger version of the rear-end collision. These collisions are dangerous primarily to passengers, depending on how fast both trains are traveling.
  • Vehicle-related collisions – Vehicle-related collisions involve a train that somehow collides with a passenger vehicle. This type of collision is often fatal to the passengers in the car involved, though any potential passengers on the train are not commonly injured.
  • Pedestrian-related collisions – Collisions involving pedestrians are certainly fatal. While cars provide at least some level of protection to their passengers, pedestrians possess zero forms of additional protection.

What Causes Train Accidents?

Within the realm of train accidents, a majority of incidents involve a significant amount of human error, negligence, or recklessness. However, three basic categories describe common causes of train accidents in addition to human error:

  • Human error – Instances of human error are common in all industries. However, mistakes can cause severe consequences when they occur within the realm of heavy machinery. Some of the potential issues caused by human error include:
  • Speeding
  • Forgetting to activate or deactivate different train components when starting up or shutting down the vehicle
  • Failing to comply with supervisor orders
  • Drowsiness/falling asleep while driving
  • Using a cell phone while driving
  • Improperly applying the brakes
  • Neglecting to provide adequate and timely maintenance to the vehicle
  • Pedestrian/car driver recklessness

Pedestrian and drivers are most often to blame for train accidents and fatalities they are involved in. Typically, the pedestrian/driver intentionally enters the railroad track and is either unable to escape or purposefully remains on the track as a train approaches.

  • Damaged railroad tracks – Damaged tracks possess their own category because the damage is not directly created by human error. However, track maintenance is a human-based job, making upkeep crucial in preventing accidents. Sometimes, small details escape during inspection, allowing damages to continue posing risks. Common railroad track damages include:
  • Use-related wear-and-tear
  • Rain damage
  • Damage around track bolts
  • Damaged welding locations
  • Faulty equipment – Trains utilize equipment to help them run and direct their movement. If this equipment falters in any way, disastrous consequences ensue. Faulty equipment can result from negligence in maintenance practices, but they can also come from wear-and-tear, causing “freak” accidents that are unpredictable. Some instance of faulty equipment include:
  • Wheel failure
  • Malfunctioning GPS-system (causing train-on-train collisions)
  • Faulty train signaling system
  • Brake malfunction
  • Crossing gate malfunction
  • Defective handrails

In most cases, faulty equipment and tracks  are remedied with preventative measures. However, not all inspections prompt the appropriate maintenance-related actions that would prevent these issues.

Train accidents can be lethal and are almost always preventable. Proper maintenance procedures and inspection protocol ensure that trains and the tracks they operate on remain in safe, working condition – as long as human error doesn’t get in the way.