Riding commuter and passenger trains is generally quite safe, but accidents still happen. When they do, determining liability can be complicated. Multiple parties may share responsibility depending on factors like whether equipment failed, procedures weren’t followed, or human error occurred.
Causes of Commuter and Passenger Rail Accidents
Commuter and passenger train accidents generally stem from four major areas: human errors, track defects, mechanical issues, and signaling failures. Combined, these four categories account for around 85% of accidents. Understanding common causes within each area can point to where systemic safety solutions are needed.
Human errors like poor judgement, mistakes and negligence are the leading single cause of rail accidents, contributing to around 40% of crashes. Errors may involve train crews, dispatchers, signal maintainers, roadway workers or others. For example, an engineer could miss a stop signal, a dispatcher might reroute trains in a dangerous manner, a maintenance crew could fail to follow equipment lockout procedures, or improper communication when handing off conductors could lead to confusion. Comprehensive training, standardized policies, fatigue management and oversight help minimize risks stemming from human unreliability.
Problems with tracks themselves account for around 20% of accidents. Broken rails, rails pulling apart, weak tunnels, soil erosion undermining ballast, excessive wear, improper maintenance and more can cause trains to jump tracks or roll over during derailments. Track owners are responsible for regular and rigorous inspections along with preventative maintenance to find and fix defects before accidents occur.
Failures like faulty brakes, software glitches, and problems with locomotives or carriages make up around 15% of accidents. Manufacturers and operators must identify and fix mechanical defects through rigorous inspection and maintenance protocols before lives are put at risk.
Around 10% of accidents involve signaling systems allowing trains onto occupied tracks or into unsafe situations. Signal system owners must maintain equipment and quickly address malfunctions through detection systems and prompt repairs to prevent crashes.
The remaining accidents have miscellaneous causes like trespassing, extreme weather, power outages, equipment striking vehicles at crossings and more. While less common, these issues also demonstrate potential liability situations.
Key Parties Potentially Liable
With interplay between equipment, operators, owners, maintainers and more, liability often falls across multiple parties in railway accidents. Key stakeholders who may share responsibility include:
- Rail Companies – Rail companies who operate passenger services have a duty to transport people safely. If their policies, procedures, training or oversight are inadequate, they can share liability.
- Government Agencies – Local transportation authorities who fund, organize and oversee regional rail networks also have an interest in ensuring safety protocols and equipment standards are met across operators. Lax oversight could expose them to liability.
- Equipment Manufacturers – Manufacturers must ensure trains, signals, switches and other equipment is designed, built and installed to meet safety expectations. Product defects making accidents inevitable may point to manufacturer liability.
- Dispatch Centers – Dispatch centers route trains, coordinate departures, address bottlenecks and manage schedules across busy networks. Operational failures in routing trains could mean liability for resulting accidents.
- Maintenance Contractors – Third-party companies are often contracted to maintain infrastructure like tracks, crossings, tunnels, bridges and signals. Failure to properly inspect and repair equipment could be found negligent.
- Staffing Agencies – Some railroads use external agencies to recruit, screen and credential engineers, conductors and other safety-related roles. Negligent vetting and training procedures could attract liability in accidents tied to unqualified personnel.
- Individual Workers – While accidents rarely result solely due to individual-level human error, liability may be apportioned if a worker acted negligently. For example, an engineer found to be under the influence or grossly negligent could attract some liability.
Those injured in train accidents should consult attorneys to identify all potentially negligent parties who may share liability for inadequate safety protections that caused crashes. Thorough investigations help ensure fair compensation.
Take Action After a Train Accident
If you or a loved one suffers injury in a passenger rail accident, contact experienced train accident lawyers immediately. Knowledgeable legal experts can handle the complicated process of investigating accidents across complex rail networks, identifying where safety failures occurred, and pursuing fair claims from multiple liable parties. An attorney can advise whether you have grounds to recover damages for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering and more. Many lawyers take cases on a contingency basis, only collecting fees if compensation is awarded. Don’t leave compensation to chance or try to face big rail companies alone.
If you’ve been injured in a train accident, we can help.
Drop into our office at 16633 Ventura Blvd. #602 Encino, CA 91436.
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