Train Accidents Information Center

Railroad Safety Obligations to Passengers

Railroads have heightened legal responsibility for the safety of their passengers. The zone of safety for which railroads are accountable to passengers extends from the depot to the waiting platform to the interior of the train itself and includes boarding and exiting. If you were injured at any time during your rail passenger experience, a train-accident attorney can advise you about what legal solutions you may have.

Common Carriers

The high duty of care owed by a railroad to its passengers comes from the legal classification of a train as a common carrier. A common carrier is a commercial enterprise publicly offering to transport people or goods for a set fee. In addition to trains, other common carriers can include buses, airplanes and ships, although the mode of transport itself does not determine whether the vehicle is a common carrier. To be a common carrier the enterprise must offer services to the general public at large for a ticketed price.

A common carrier must exercise extreme caution and diligently guard against dangerous conditions. Usually even minimal fault on the part of a railroad results in legal liability if a passenger is harmed, even if the injury was caused in part by another party.

The safety of the vulnerable traveling public is in the hands of those controlling the means of transportation, a monumental responsibility. A common carrier cannot transfer, delegate or assign its special duty of care to any other entity; it alone bears the responsibility of keeping its passengers safe.

Railroads' Duties to Passengers

As common carriers, railroad companies must carefully operate, inspect and maintain their equipment and facilities. Rail personnel must be appropriately trained and the operation of the rail system must be professional and cautious. The railroad must also take reasonable precautions to protect passengers from foreseeable hazardous behavior on the part of either its employees or other passengers. In addition, particular caution must be taken to protect passengers when they enter or exit a train. Doors, steps and handrails must be safely designed and maintained and the train must take care not to lurch dangerously when there are walking or standing passengers.

Limits on Railroads' Duties

A railroad's very high duty of care to passengers, however, is not without limit. The railroad is not required to guaranty absolute safety under any extraordinary circumstance nor must it take precautions that deviate far outside its normal operation. Highly unusual and unpredictable accidents or events that cause harm to passengers may be outside the circle of railway responsibility. In addition, passengers also have some responsibility for their own safety. They should conduct themselves reasonably under the circumstances, follow railroad rules and not expose themselves to dangerous conditions when the railroad has offered safer alternatives.


This article provides a general overview of the law of common carriers as it applies to railroads and their duties to passengers. The details of this area of the law vary some from state to state. To understand how the law of your jurisdiction applies to your situation as an injured rail passenger, it is in your interest to consult with an experienced train-injury lawyer.

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