Train Accidents Information Center


Typical Train Accidents

The weight and speed of a train are no match for a motor vehicle or pedestrian. According to the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), 2006 brought almost 400 deaths in vehicle-train collisions and over 500 trespasser deaths. Lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by trains hitting cars or people are complex, both legally and factually. The law can vary from state-to-state and depending upon the unique circumstances of the accident. If you are the victim of such an accident or if you lost a loved one in a collision with a train, the advice of an experienced train-accident attorney is definitely in your best interest.

In general, when railroad tracks and roads intersect, trains have the right-of-way, along with the duties of warning vehicles and pedestrians of train approaches and of providing safe crossings. When the system fails and a collision occurs, the legal question of blame for the accident can be extremely complicated and can involve a difficult tangle of state and federal laws.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA)

Congress responded in 1970 to disproportionate injury and death in the railway industry as compared to other modes of transportation by enacting the FRSA "to promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents and incidents. 49 U.S.C.A. § 20101. This sweeping federal rail safety act orders the creation of comprehensive railway-safety regulations. The FRSA establishes uniform national rail safety standards and the states are only allowed to regulate local safety hazards and rail safety topics not regulated federally.

Lawsuits Based on State Law

Historically, state laws provided the bases for lawsuits for the negligent or reckless actions of railroads before collisions. For example, the injured victim might have argued that the train did not provide adequate warning by horn or was approaching too fast for the conditions.

Intersection of Federal and State Laws

State railroad-accident claims have been increasingly subject to the preemption of federal safety laws. The FRSA and other federal laws setting railroad safety standards often reach the subjects debated in a state railroad lawsuit, such as how fast a train may go under the circumstances or whether the train bore adequate safety reflectors. Federal law preempts state law on the same subject. For example, if the train complied with the federal safety standards for speed at the time of the accident, typically no state law claim that the train was traveling too fast for the conditions can be successful. However, if the federal law is silent on a particular safety topic, state law can still provide the basis for liability.

Some of the railroad safety topics federal law has regulated include employee safety training, speed, reflectors and horn use. However, an attorney may understand narrow exceptions even within these areas where state law may still apply.

Conclusion

Because of this legal complexity, victims of train accidents should seek the guidance of a skilled personal-injury lawyer who has solid experience fighting for the rights of those injured or killed in train collisions.

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