Although train travel is relatively safe compared to travel by cars and buses, when train accidents do happen they stand a good chance of having catastrophic consequences. The majority of train accidents involve rail-highway crossing incidents, which are especially common in areas with a good amount of freight traffic such as Pennsylvania — not coincidentally, the state rounds out the top 10 for such crashes.
2019 was the most deadly year for train-related fatalities in 14 years, with 937 deaths related to train accidents, with over 800 people or more injured every year on record. In addition, train accidents involving hazardous materials occur every two weeks on average in the U.S. — causing chemical spills, fires, even evacuations of whole towns. Due to outdated technologies and negligence, every 4 hours a train somewhere in the U.S. has a collision or derailment.
Train or SEPTA derailments and other railroad injuries involving multiple passengers and railroad workers encompass complex issues of federal preemption, tort law, and medical damages. The train accident lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt are uniquely suited to guiding railroad workers and train passengers’ wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits because of our railroad and medical injury practices, and extensive history of knowledgeable representation.
Our railroad accident attorneys have handled cases in both the Philadelphia and Hoboken train accidents. Call 1-866-971-0019 for a free consultation today.
In the Press
A Leading Voice on Train Safety
Lead partner Jim McEldrew is a past president of the Rail Labor Attorneys and past president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. He has helped hundreds of victims seek compensation for injuries involving Amtrak, SEPTA, NJ Transit and other railroads in the United States, and has aggressively fought for train safety reform — pushing for the adoption of Positive Train Control (PTC) after the 2015 Amtrak Northeast Regional derailment, which could have been prevented had this important reform been adopted sooner.
Jim McEldrew was interviewed by Fox News after both the 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak and 2016 Hoboken NJ Transit train accidents because of his expertise in railroad litigation and has written on PTC for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He spoke with Gretchen Carlson on “The Real Story” on May 18th, 2015, about the implications of the foreign object on the Philadelphia Amtrak train crash and the potential for the railroad engineer to be confused as to his geographical position on the tracks.
He was also quoted by The American Lawyer editor-in-chief Gina Passarella in the wake of the 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak train derailment, in her influential critique of the $200 million cap on damages for train accidents set by the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997. Almost 20 years old, this cap hadn’t been adjusted for inflation, until this limit was revised to $295 million in 2015, a number that may still not fully encompass the tremendous scale of damages a disastrous train accident can cause.
Positive Train Control in the Northeast Corridor might have prevented the devastating Amtrak accident from happening, had it only been implemented at the time. After this accident, Congress required all railroads to implement PTC by the end of 2015, but the railway industry has pushed that deadline back repeatedly, and the deadline is currently set at December 31st, 2020.
Jim McEldrew has also personally fought to have state agencies such as NJ Transit assume responsibility for central roles in train accidents, despite their protection under the law. His advocacy has also championed railroad workers — McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt has even hosted holiday parties for rail workers.
What Causes Train Accidents?
Many train-car collisions come about due to a basic misunderstanding of physics, with vehicles attempting to unsafely make their way across railway crossings — not knowing that it will take a 150-car freight train going at 50 miles-per-hour over one mile to stop!
Other times, train accidents come down to driver and equipment errors. The implementation of PTC, the remote tracking and control system that has made train travel safer for rail lines in Europe and Japan, has been delayed since the National Transportation Safety Board first advised feasibility studies on the subject in 1970. Unfortunately, such improvements seem to be held back from U.S. railroads due to the costs involved.
The most common causes of train accidents include:
- Equipment failure: The main equipment concern is usually for malfunctioning brakes, but communication system errors can be just as damaging.
- Conductor negligence: Much like an individual operator of a motor vehicle, conductor distraction accounts for a big chunk of the accident puzzle — one that would be eliminated by the adoption of PTC.
- Poorly marked or malfunctioning crossings: According to some estimates, inadequately marked crossings are the sites for nearly half of nighttime train-car collisions. The Federal Railroad Administration says that just around 50 percent of public railroad crossings don’t have automatic warning systems and that the majority of the 80,500 private crossings do not have warning systems in place.
- Improper maintenance of train tracks: This is the most frequent cause of train derailment, the most catastrophic of all train accidents.
Increases in Train Crossing Accidents in the United States
Over 900 people were killed in train crossing accidents in 2019 in the United States, an 11% increase from the previous year. In Pennsylvania alone, there were over 30 fatalities and nearly 700 incidents involving trains. In fact, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that a motorist is now almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in an accident with another vehicle, with the National Safety Council (NSC) reporting that railroad crossing fatalities have reached their highest recorded levels in 13 years.
PTC is now installed on 100% of Class 1 route miles as of August 2020, an effort that took many years longer than originally expected. Human error has historically caused the highest rate of train-related accidents, causing around 38% of all accidents. The implementation of PTC should hopefully drive these numbers down, but the railway industry still needs to push for rigorous employee training and fatigue management programs to increase these outcomes.
When hazardous materials explode or spill after a train derailment, the consequences can be devastating. When a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in Canada in 2013, 47 people lost their lives, and the downtown area of Lac-Megantic was incinerated. Philadelphia has long seen the transport of Bakken oil passing through the city on trains, and in 2015, 11 tank cars carrying Bakken oil derailed in South Philadelphia.
Luckily, there were no serious injuries or explosions after the 2015 derailment, but rail safety and security consultants have warned that in fact “there is no effective emergency response to a crude oil derailment” if it caused an explosion in the city. These types of derailments are complex legal cases and require a thorough knowledge of railroad law to successfully bring to court.
Why Are There So Many Train Crossings that Lack Signals?
Studies show that crossings are much more dangerous when they do not have signals or gates at them. But local governments often do not have the funding or qualified personnel to install these safety measures. While this is understandable, if regrettable, it doesn’t exempt a government from liability entirely.
If a state or local government has knowledge that a particular crossing needs signals or gates to prevent casualties, and fails to act, then you may have a right to bring a lawsuit against them for any damages you incurred at that crossing. The lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt can help you determine if your local government agency or railroad were aware of any dangers that the crossing in the question posed to the general public.
Can I Sue a Train Company?
If you were injured in a train accident due to someone’s negligence, then the law entitles you to bring a lawsuit against the responsible party. Railroads are highly regulated, which means that few accidents involving trains happen unless there were wrongful or negligent actions involved in the operation of the train or track.
Parties that may potentially be liable for your accident include:
- The federal government
- City or state government
- Private rail operators
When filing a personal injury lawsuit, more than one party may have liability. A skilled train accident attorney can help you understand who is ultimately responsible to compensate you for your accident.
Should I Accept the Settlement the Railroad Offers Me?
It is wise to never accept the first settlement offered to you after an accident, as this is usually considered an opening offer meant to spark negotiations. The team at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt can help you accurately determine what an acceptable settlement amount would be, and help you negotiate with the powerful railroad insurance companies to get you a fair amount.
Remember, when you agree to a settlement, you release the railroad from any future liability, so you need to make sure the amount they offer you will cover any future medical bills or lost wages from work.
The Types of Cases We Take On
Our practice area, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is in the middle of the busiest rail line in the U.S., the Northeast Corridor. This corridor sees 2,200 trains and 750,000 passengers per day. In addition, Philadelphia is home to SEPTA, the 5th-largest U.S. transit system, which sees 300 million passengers per year.
Cases we have successfully litigated in the past include:
- Train-train collisions
- Train-car collisions
- Train-person collisions
- Damage to property
- On-the-job accidents
Consult With an Experienced Train Accident Attorney
At McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt, we have over 30 years of experience in litigating train accident cases. Lead attorney Jim McEldrew has made a career out of being one of the top train accident attorneys in the Northeast and has extensive knowledge of the railroad industry and laws pertaining to train accidents.
We take all train accident injury claims on a contingency basis, and will only charge you attorney fees if we are able to obtain financial compensation for your losses. McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt welcomes clients from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania communities near and far. To schedule a meeting for a free consultation, fill out our form or call us directly at 1-866-971-0019.