A still-unexplained commuter rail crash in New Jersey last week has suddenly brought the issue of railroad safety back to the forefront of the American consciousness. The safety and reliability of rail systems isn’t something most of us think about often, but it affects many.
Millions of Americans ride some form of rail transit, from commuter rail lines to subways to inter-city passenger trains, every day. We like to think of these lines as perfectly safe, and their per-mile accident rate actually is very small. But last year, several hundred people were killed and nearly 1,000 injured in accidents involving trains.
On September 29, a New Jersey Transit commuter train arriving at its final stop at the terminal in Hoboken crashed into the barriers at the end of the terminal, plowing through all of them and into the main structure of the building. As many as 114 people were reported injured, and a woman waiting on the platform was killed by falling debris.
Some witnesses reported that the train was moving faster than the allowed 10 miles per hour speed as it approached the station, but others noticed nothing unusual before the crash. Only one of the two data recorders on the train has been recovered so far, and it was not recording at the time of the crash.
The Hoboken tracks were not equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety system mandated in recent years after a series of avoidable rail accidents. PTC might have brought the train to a stop if it detected that the train was approaching the station too quickly. Investigators won’t know how likely this was until they recover the second data recorder from beneath the rubble created by the crash. The crash occurred in an area of the terminal that’s now considered structurally unsound, which has slowed the recovery process.
While the Hoboken crash was dramatic, the fact that no one aboard was killed while the only fatality was outside is fairly typical. Many of the injuries and deaths in which trains play a part are to people not onboard the trains. Vehicles smashed at railroad crossings make up about one-third of railroad fatalities, while trespassers walking on or alongside railroad tracks make up many of the rest. In 2013, only six of 891 rail-related deaths were train passengers.
Injuries and deaths caused by trains are not unheard of in the areas we serve. In August, for example, a man was struck and killed by a TRAX train in downtown Salt Lake City. There have been at least five deaths from TRAX collisions this year alone.
The lawyers at Craig Swapp & Associates have experience with all forms of transportation personal injury law, from bicycles and motorcycles, to cars and trucks, right up to trains and aircraft. If you or someone close to you has been involved in a public transportation accident, either as a passenger or someone outside the train or bus, give us a call to discuss your case.
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