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Track debris and excess speed can cause train accidents

It seems that every week there is a train derailment occurring somewhere in the United States, at times right here in New York City. However, train travel may still be safer than traveling in a vehicle on the roadways.

As noted by the New York Times, traveling by rail is safer, mile per mile. The Federal Railroad Administration reports the statistics on train crashes. Amtrak, suffering about two crashes per month, accounts for a full quarter of all reported crashes by the FRA. Fortunately, most of these accidents involve no serious injuries, occurring at low speeds and in the train yards.

The National Transportation Safety Board states that Amtrak has a less than ideal safety culture, which Amtrak disputes somewhat, while confirming its newer realization that its rails urgently need repair.

However, fatalities or serious injury can occur, and often that will take place if a car is on the tracks and the train does not stop in time to avoid hitting it or, just as tragic, when people are on the tracks.

Recent newsworthy accidents involving New York include the following:

  • A 2017 New York subway train suffered a derailment accident in a tunnel, injuring 34 people

  • Multiple 2017 incidents involving Pennsylvania Station in New York largely reported to be due to track defects, including mismatched rail pieces

  • A 2015 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, accident with a New York bound train that involved excess speed, left eight people dead and about 185 injured

Other accidents outside of the New York area include a 2015 Northfield, Vermont, accident with a Washington bound train. It involved debris on the track and caused seven people injuries. Dodge City, Kansas, saw an Amtrak derailment in 2016, resulting in several train cars tipping over and 32 people injured. Another 2016 accident out of Pompano Beach, Florida, was debris related and injured one person.

Debris on the tracks and excess speed may be two risk factors the railroad authorities may choose to address.

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