Car Accidents

Car Accidents Involving Trains

Car accident cases become much more complex when they involve a train. If you were injured in a vehicle-train collision or you lost a loved one, it’s best to reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible. It might take weeks or months for authorities to investigate the crash. You might need to hire experts to analyze the evidence and testify regarding fault. You might find that multiple companies could be liable for your injuries or loss. All of these issues and others should be handled by an experienced attorney to ensure you have the greatest chance of obtaining compensation.

To talk with Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C., about a car accident involving a train, call (312) 236-2900. You also can submit your information through our online form to request a free consultation.

Common Causes of Car-Train Accidents

Cars and trains collide at crossings for several reasons, including:

  • Lack of warnings, such as signs, lights, and gates at a crossing
  • Malfunctioning warnings at a crossing
  • Limited line of sight for a motorist
  • Inability for motorists to hear train whistles
  • Speeding trains
  • Stalled cars on tracks
  • Mechanical or system failure on the train
  • Miscommunications between railroad employees
  • Defective tracks

Why Vehicle-Train Collisions Happen and Who Is Responsible

Any number of people or businesses can be liable for a car and train accident. In some cases, motorists are to blame. An irresponsible or intoxicated driver might try to outrun the train. The driver might ignore the warning lights and try to speed over the tracks before the train comes, only to be struck by the train that can’t stop in time.

Many train accidents aren’t the motorist’s fault, though. Too many crossings, especially in rural areas, lack enough warnings. There might be signs when you’re approaching the crossing, but no flashing lights, ringing bells, or a crossing arm.

State highway officials usually decide which types of warning devices are needed at a crossing. They might make those decisions in coordination with the railroad company. If you were injured in a crash because there were no warnings, or the crossing lights or gates were broken, talk with a lawyer about who is liable. You might have a claim against a railroad company or a state agency.

The train accident could be the fault of the engineer or conductor aboard the train. The engineer operates the train, including adhering to speed limits and maintaining a lookout for hazards. The conductor oversees the entire trip and relays information to other crew members or workers. Trains have speed limits, just like cars. Careless engineers might run the train at too high of a speed, which could contribute to a derailment or car crash.

The vehicle-train collision might happen because of a system or mechanical malfunction on the train. The rail operator might be liable for allowing a defective train to be used or failing to notice the defect in an inspection. A maintenance provider might also be liable for shoddy work.

Another reason train accidents happen is miscommunications between the team on the train and workers on the ground. For example, there could be a miscommunication between the conductor and a trainman who handles ground switches, uncoupling cars, and flagging.

Track defects are another major issue. Many derailments are the result of track defects that could’ve been found and corrected through inspections. The rail operator, or whichever business owns that stretch of track, might be liable for your injuries.

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a car accident involving a train, it’s essential that you talk with a lawyer. Your attorney will investigate the train accident and analyze the evidence to determine what happened and who is at fault.

Positive Train Control (PTC)

PTC is advanced automatic braking technology meant to prevent collisions with other vehicles and objects. For PTC systems to control for human error, they have to be able to know the location, direction, and speed of trains, warn engineers of possible problems, and stop a train if the engineer doesn’t react.

In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required all trains to have a PTC system by the end of 2015. The deadline was extended to the end of 2018, though railroads could request an alternative schedule from the Federal Rail Administration, with an absolute final deadline of December 31, 2020.

Railroad companies are self-reporting their progress to the FRA. Amtrak reports that 86% of all route miles in its system have operating PTC. According to the FRA, as of the end of 2019, 94.3 percent of route miles where the host railroad is governed by PTC has operating PTC, though only 2.1% were in the advanced testing stage.

This type of system is expensive but important. Not only is it required by law, but it is essential in reducing the number of fatal car-train collisions. If you were injured or a loved one died in a train accident, we’ll investigate whether there was functioning PTC at the location. If not, we’ll investigate whether the railroad company or another party was responsible for implementing that technology there and failed to do so.

Freight and Passenger Rail in Illinois

There are 49 freight railroads in Illinois, covering 7,151 miles of freight railroad. In 2017, 483.2 million tons of freight originated in, terminated in, or moved through Illinois. Most were intermodal rail traffic (shipping containers moved from a truck or ship to a train). Trains in Illinois also carried coal, non-metallic minerals, farm products, food products, and other substances.

Passenger rail service in Illinois is dominated by Amtrak. Eight national train lines operate through Illinois, and eight state corridors run in Illinois or to nearby states, like Michigan or Wisconsin. In 2018, 4,786,210 people boarded Amtrak trains in Illinois.

Amtrak Relies on Host Railroads

An important factor to know about railroads in the U.S. are that the company operating the train isn’t always the same company that owns and maintains the track. Amtrak is a great example of this. It mostly relies on freight railroad giving it access to their tracks.

For example, the Texas Eagle runs Chicago-St. Louis-Little Rock-Dallas-San Antonio, and during that run. Amtrak uses tracks owned by BNSF, Canadian National, Union Pacific, and Trinity Railway Express. This means if you’re injured or lose a relative in a train accident, it’s not obvious which company is liable. You need to know what went wrong and then identify the company that owned the track as well as the company operating the train.

Trains in the Chicagoland Area

Not all car accidents involving trains in Illinois deal with a freight train. It could be a passenger train, which in Northern Illinois could be Metra or the L, which is run by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Metra serves six counties with 241 stations and 11 routes over about 1,200 miles of track. In 2016, Metra ran 80.4 million passenger trips.

The CTA operates the second largest public transportation system in the U.S. It includes 224 miles of track and 145 train stations. In 2016, the annual ridership for the train was 238.6 million people. If you were hurt in a crash with Metra or the L, it’s critical you talk with a local lawyer. Your claim might be against a government entity instead of a private company.

The Government Might Investigate the Train Accident

Another aspect of your case might be an FRA or National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of your case. The Accident Analysis Branch of the FRA continuously monitors train incidents.

If an accident happens, the FRA might send field personnel to determine if a formal investigation is necessary. If so, a team will thoroughly investigate and create a Factual Investigation Report, which will include the FRA’s conclusion on probable cause and liability for the accident. In some cases, the NTSB sends personnel to investigate and draft a report. Your case might benefit from a federal investigation. We can use the report as evidence against the at-fault party.

Talk with a Lawyer About Your Rights After a Car-Train Accident

Never underestimate the potential complexity of a car accident involving a train. There are going to be many moving parts in the weeks and months following the crash. Instead of trying to handle the claims process on your own, it’s better to work with an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate a federal investigation, an insurance claim, and litigation.

Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. has years of experience handling train accidents, including train-vehicle collisions in Illinois. Use our online form or call (312) 236-2900 to schedule your free initial consultation.

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(312) 236-2900
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