Train accidents, when they happen, are generally devastating in the amount of injuries and deaths that result. The types and causes of these impacts vary because of the different elements involved with each incident.
- Training and attention of the train operator and the crew
- The condition of the tracks
- Correct operation of signals
- Track obstructions
- Collisions with vehicles
- Collisions with other trains
- Collisions with pedestrians
- Mechanical failure
This is a type of accident that brings a large amount of media attention and requires agencies other than the local police to investigate, in order to determine the cause of the crash and whether negligence played a role. There are not as many train accidents as there are motor vehicle accidents. But when they do occur, there are usually more people involved in a typical train accident than in a motor vehicle accident. The harm to the passengers and crew that can result from an accident may include fractures, broken bones, traumatic head injuries, neck and back injuries, burns, cuts, gashes and bruises.
Recent Train Mishaps
Train crashes happen nationwide and for a variety of reasons. An example of how devastating train accidents can be is one that occurred west of Baltimore in Ellicott City, Maryland, in the summer of 2012. This accident claimed the lives of two college students who were not passengers on the train, but were sitting on the edge of a bridge when the train derailed. Nearly two dozen railroad cars flipped over when the train derailed, sending some of the cars rolling off the bridge and hitting cars below. The cause of the death of the two 19-year-old women was coal that spilled and covered the women, who were identified as Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in Virginia, and Rose Louese Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware. Because this was not a passenger train, there were no passenger injuries. The two train operators were not injured in the derailment. Witnesses stated they heard the train brakes squealing prior to hearing the noise they said was thunderous when the train cars derailed.
A crash that occurred in 2010 involved a train traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, Nevada, that collided with a big rig that had crashed through the gates. This had devastating results, with many dead and even more people injured. According to Earl Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board, the truck was part of a three-truck convoy. He said the driver saw the gates go down and the warning lights flash as the trucks approached the crossing. The lead driver continued to cross the railroad tracks, but the other two trucks stopped.
The collision, about 70 miles east of Reno, brought immediate reports of six people confirmed dead, many injured, and, at one point after the impact, 28 people missing. One of the confirmed dead was the driver of the big rig and another was the train conductor. This illustrates the deadly result of a collision between these large metal cars and other objects, even involving people in the vicinity of the train. A train colliding with a big rig is not uncommon. Every year at railroad crossings there are many of these collisions, especially at crossings that are either unmarked or have signals that do not work properly.
Very few train mishaps involve no deaths or injuries, but these accidents can still cause upheaval, as happened with a July 2011 freight train crash in California. In this case, half of the 62 cars of a Pacific Union freight train overturned. Fourteen of the cars were carrying hazardous materials, though after initial reports, Union Pacific argued that it was only six cars hauling these materials. Chlorine was one of the possible substances that was reported to be leaking when a fire company helicopter flew over the scene. This resulted in the evacuation of nearby homes. According to the Los Angeles fire company, about one hundred homes had to be evacuated because of the toxic substances that could leak from the overturned train cars.
Train collisions are not like other types of vehicle accidents. Even when no one aboard the train is injured or killed, the accident can still affect others who are near the point of impact. This can leave many people injured, as well as families who have lost loved ones, waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of the train mishap. Perhaps the most difficult to understand accident cause is negligence.