Train accidents are not as frequent as other types of transportation accidents, which could explain why they are often overlooked as a major threat. Despite the decline in the use of railroads compared to centuries past, they still play a significant role in modern transportation, especially in the United States, where various forms of trains like subways, commuter trains, and trams are widely used. With around 600 railroads, hundreds of thousands of miles of tracks, and over 209,000 railroad crossings in the US alone, trains remain a common sight.

However, when train accidents do occur, they can lead to severe injuries and even fatalities. Seeking compensation from the responsible party can be a daunting task, as nobody wants to take responsibility for such tragic incidents, and insurance companies often resist providing full benefits. Whether you were injured while working for a railroad company or as a passenger in a train accident, it's essential to reach out to experienced legal professionals like the Tennessee train accident lawyers at Gilreath & Associates for guidance and support.

Train accident statistics reveal the severity of the issue. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2014 alone, there were 11,896 train accidents at railroad crossings, resulting in 804 fatalities and numerous injuries. Trains are estimated to claim a life every 100 minutes, with nearly 1,000 people killed in train-related accidents annually. Shockingly, over half of all railroad accidents happen at unprotected crossings, and more than 80 percent of these crossings lack adequate warning devices such as lights and gates. Moreover, occupants of vehicles involved in train collisions are 40 times more likely to die compared to collisions with vehicles of similar size. Adding to the concern, a train carrying hazardous materials derails in the United States approximately every two weeks, highlighting the potential dangers associated with train accidents.

​​Train Wreck of 1918

Tennessee's history with train accidents is marked by a particularly tragic event known as the Great Train Wreck of 1918. Occurring near Nashville on July 9, 1918, this disaster remains one of the deadliest rail accidents in US history. The collision involved two passenger trains operated by the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway ("NC&StL"), resulting in over 100 fatalities and at least 170 injuries. The trains collided head-on at speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour.

Following the incident, an investigation by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) revealed several contributing factors. Critical errors made by the crew and tower operators were identified as primary causes. Additionally, the ICC attributed part of the blame for the high casualty count to the absence of a reliable system for determining train positions and the prevalent use of wooden construction materials.

​​Top Causes Of Train Accidents

Train and railroad accidents can occur due to a multitude of reasons, with many happening at crossings when vehicles attempt to pass ahead of the train. These accidents often involve passengers, drivers, and bystanders. While each incident is unique, some of the top causes of train accidents include:

  • Negligence: This can involve various parties, from railway companies to conductors or government agencies. Negligence might manifest in operating crossing arms incorrectly or failing to activate warning signals.
  • Human Error: Mistakes made by both experienced and inexperienced conductors can lead to accidents. Factors like fatigue can impair judgment and reaction times, posing risks to passengers and others.
  • Reckless Pedestrians & Drivers: Collisions can occur when pedestrians or drivers disregard safety measures and cross tracks at inappropriate times or leave vehicles parked on tracks.
  • Mechanical Failure: Despite adherence to safety protocols, accidents can still happen due to mechanical issues or defective parts within the train's complex systems.
  • Speeding Trains: Excessive speed can amplify the consequences of a collision or derailment, as observed in many recent accidents.
  • Defective Tracks: Obstructions on tracks or track defects can cause derailments, emphasizing the importance of vigilant conductor awareness.
  • Derailments: These occur when a train leaves its track due to various factors, potentially leading to catastrophic outcomes, especially at high speeds.
  • Unprotected Railroad Crossings: Lack of warning devices at crossings contributes to accidents, often exacerbated by poor visibility or driver distraction.
  • Stalled Cars on Tracks: While rare, cars stalling on tracks due to engine issues can pose risks. In such cases, prioritizing personal safety is paramount.
  • Suicides: Tragically, individuals may choose to end their lives by stepping in front of trains, endangering themselves and others aboard, as well as emergency responders and bystanders.

These causes highlight the diverse factors contributing to train accidents and underscore the importance of robust safety measures and awareness campaigns to mitigate risks for all involved.

Liability & Prevention

Determining liability in a train accident requires a comprehensive examination of the incident's details. The Federal Railroad Administration, established under the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, holds the authority to regulate and promote railway safety.

Railroad and commuter rail companies are legally obligated to uphold the highest safety standards for all passengers. They must install black boxes on locomotives, which record crucial information for accident analysis.

However, responsibility for accidents may not always solely lie with the railway or conductor. Personal injury cases stemming from train accidents often involve various factors, necessitating legal expertise in railroad accident litigation.

To enhance railway safety, companies must prioritize the protection of passengers, operators, pedestrians, and the public. Recovering the black box promptly after an accident is crucial for determining causation and potential negligence.

The railroad industry places great emphasis on safety, with operators undergoing rigorous training and stringent eligibility criteria. State inspectors collaborate with the FRA to ensure nationwide railroad tracks and facilities comply with safety regulations.

While legal assistance is available for those affected by train accidents, prevention remains paramount. Here are tips to prevent train accidents:

  • Always assume tracks are active.
  • Never stop on railroad tracks.
  • Avoid train tunnels or trestles where escape is limited.
  • Never bypass lowered gates; report malfunctions promptly.
  • Avoid walking or playing on train tracks.
  • Refrain from attempting to outrun or race trains.
  • Practice caution and look both ways before crossing tracks.
  • Recognize trains' width relative to tracks.
  • Lift trailer jacks to prevent truck entrapment on tracks.
  • Acknowledge that trains traveling at 55 mph may require up to a mile to stop completely.

Prioritizing safety through awareness and adherence to preventive measures is essential to mitigate the risks associated with train accidents.