What Typically Causes A Rail Crash?

by Terry Bryant

A rail crash is like no other type of accident, as the forces involved are extreme. Nothing on the road is a match for a train, and when a car or truck collide with one, the result is often tragic. According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) 2015 data, there were 11,305 accidents involving trains, and 8,530 of them, or about 75%, resulted in injury. Nearly 800 resulted in fatal outcomes.

Because a rail crash can produce such staggering outcomes, it is essential that operators do everything possible to avoid them. Unfortunately, human error is a problem throughout the industry and represents the single largest cause of train accidents. For example, operators may fail to verify latching during a track switch, resulting in subsequent derailment. And trains that are tasked to push unsecured cars down the track must have someone ahead looking out for any potential danger. Unfortunately, some operators occasionally neglect to do so.

With so much human error in the industry, the FRA is taking steps to improve safety on tracks across the nation. Their solution, known as Positive Train Control (PTC), uses automation and communications technology to react to dangers before they result in an accident, and could be a major step forward in train safety. Many railroads have not yet universally adopted the technology, and there is some pushback that could delay its implementation. If that occurs, more preventable injuries and fatalities may occur as a result.

Trains are a major element of commuter and freight transit, but without additional safety measures, they will continue to pose a threat.