Air and train travel are normally the safest modes of public and cargo transportation until they aren’t. The overall number of train-car crashes in recent years is around 5800, resulting in 2300 injuries and an average of 600 deaths. The Federal Railroad Administration in 2017 reported a ten-year high with 575 train crash deaths and 888 total train-related deaths.
Florida unfortunately ranks among the top ten in railroad crossing accidents that account for more than a third of all rail-related deaths annually. Most train crashes in the state occur in urban areas with high traffic. Slower-moving freight trains experience fewer collisions, injuries, and deaths whereas faster passenger or commuter train accidents result in a higher number of crashes and casualties.
What Are Some of the Causes of Train Accidents?
According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) accidents can happen in several ways:
- Railway negligence that results in light and cautionary devices to malfunction, thereby depriving drivers and/or pedestrians of requisite safety warning.
- Mechanical failure due to substandard or faulty equipment or track and structure failures.
- Conductor error in failing to switch tracks, obey speed limits, or drive while being distracted, overly tired, or under the influence. Inadequate training of operators can also result in otherwise avoidable accidents.
- Violations of inspection and maintenance requirements according to DOT regulations.
- Reckless drivers and pedestrians who ignore or fail to see descending or shut rail crossing bars and attempt to outrun trains by accelerating and coming dangerously close to approaching trains. These types of accidents are almost always avoidable. And anyone who is injured or dies from such a collision—caused by the fault or negligence of the driver of the vehicle in which he or she is riding—may well have a claim against that driver in addition to any potential claim against the railroad.
- Obstruction on the tracks (vehicles, equipment, or other foreign objects), potentially causing derailments resulting in passenger and/or employee casualties.
Examples of Recent Florida Train Accidents with Fatalities
Brightline, a privately owned higher-speed passenger railway, opened in January 2018 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Within two years more than 40 people had been killed by its trains on tracks and at rail crossings.
Traveling at speeds up to 79 mph, the Brightline’s 70–mile stretch of track in South Florida was historically used to much slower freight train traffic. But with more than one person a month dying on its tracks in cars, on bikes, or on foot, it ranks as the worst rate per mile of any of the country’s railroads according to a Miami Herald article dated Jan. 29, 2020. It’s simple logic to realize that a commuter train traveling at high speed through densely populated towns and cities only takes a few seconds of unguarded attention to become a potentially deadly instrument.
Another relevant fact is that rural areas in Florida are often overlooked in terms of crossing gates and warning signals that are more common in big cities. A November 2019 crash in the countryside of Palm Beach County occurred between an Amtrak train and an SUV driven by a grandmother with her two grandsons, all three of whom perished in the accident. In this tragic case, no crossing gate was present to prevent cars from colliding with oncoming trains. The incident prompted a Florida state senator to call for guardrails and warning lights at all at-grade crossings, to supplement yield and simple “crossbuck” signs.
Proving Liability in a Railroad Accident Claim
Since negligence is the leading cause of train derailments and accidents, the fault or responsibility can land on several parties: the railway companies, conductors, other railroad employees, or equipment manufacturers. Safety equipment that is broken or inadequately maintained at railway crossings may also be relevant. Using outdated technologies, forgetting to turn on signal warnings, or driving at excessive speed can all be mistakes for which railways are liable.
When an accident occurs, investigators will recover the black box that details the speed, direction, and other key indicators of what was going on beforehand. In trial cases, such information is critical to proving innocence or negligence on the part of the railway.
Reach Out to a Florida Train Accident Attorney
If you’ve been injured or have lost a loved one in a railway crash, a train accident attorney could help build your case and obtain the compensation you deserve. It’s important to remember that the law does not make the railroad responsible for all injuries under all circumstances. Rather, it states that the railroads must take reasonable actions to prevent injury and death. Even in circumstances where the distraction or error of a vehicle driver or pedestrian played a causal role, claims may still be worth pursuing if the railway operator or a third party shared partial responsibility. By consulting an attorney with years of negotiating and litigating experience, you’ll be made aware of options and choices about future financial recovery.