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Train accidents are rare, but you should know what to do if it happens to you
On Sunday, December 1, 2013, a Metro-North passenger train departed Poughkeepsie heading for New York City. As the train traveled through the Bronx, all 7 cars derailed along a sharp curve near the Henry Hudson Bridge in the Bronx. Four passengers died as a result of the crash and at least 67 were injured.
It was determined that the accident happened because the engineer had an undiagnosed sleep disorder that made him drowsy while driving the train. Investigators found that the train had been traveling at 82 miles per hour, but the brakes reached their maximum level 5 seconds after the train entered the curve.
More than 2 years later, on February 2, 2015, another Metro-North commuter train struck a passenger car near Valhalla, New York. The collision killed 6 people and injured 15. This was considered to be the deadliest crash in Metro-North history, and the deadliest in the U.S. since 2009.
The crash was caused when a driver was caught between crossing gates that lowered onto the rear of her car. She moved forward onto the tracks, rather than backing up. The driver was killed and her car loosened 450 feet of the third rail, which broke into pieces and went through the exterior of the train car. The crash killed 5 passengers and started a fire on the train.
Traveling by train in New York state
New York’s Metro-North is the nation’s second-largest commuter rail system in the country. Metro-North includes:
- NYC subways and buses
- Long Island Railroad (LIRR)
- Metro-North Railroad
This system covers transportation throughout New York City, its outlying suburbs, and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
Buffalo also has a Metro Rail, which is operated by Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. The Buffalo train line, which runs both above- and underground, is about 6.5 miles long and serves the area from one of the University at Buffalo campus locations to downtown Buffalo.
The other way that New Yorkers travel by train is Amtrak, which carries passengers both between New York state cities and to locations outside the state. You can travel by Amtrak from various cities in New York to cities all over the Northeast, East Coast and parts of the midwest, including Toronto, New Orleans, Orlando, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Train accident statistics
Overall, train travel is very safe. These statistics reflect the total numbers of train fatalities, injuries, and accidents nationwide over the past several decades:
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Up to 6 million riders per day use the New York City subways. There are about 290,000 riders per week on the Metro-North and LIRR.
The majority of these statistics reflect accidents between trains and cars at railroad crossings, or between trains and pedestrians (or people on a subway or train platform or tracks). Being injured as a train passenger is far less likely.
How to prevent a train accident
Stopping a train accident might make you think of Superman catching a speeding locomotive with his bare hands. But you don’t have to be Superman to take precautions that will help you to avoid being a victim in a train wreck.
8 tips to avoid a train accident at a rail crossing or on the tracks
- Never walk on railroad tracks.
- If you do need to cross railroad tracks, look for warning signs or signals.
- Some vehicles like buses and trucks carrying certain types of loads are required to come to a full stop at a railroad crossing. If you’re following behind one of these vehicles, be prepared to stop even if the light is green.
- Always assume there’s a train coming. No matter how well you think you know the schedule, there’s often an unexpected delay or variation. You can never be sure the coast is clear without checking before you cross.
- Never try to beat a train across the tracks. Wait a moment or two until the train passes. That extra few minutes isn’t worth risking your life and others’.
- If your vehicle becomes stuck or stalls while in a crossing area, get out. Stand far away from the tracks, even if you don’t think a train is crossing. Call the emergency number posted near the crossing and dial 911.
- Never attempt to jump aboard a moving train.
- Trespassing on train tracks is both illegal and dangerous. Cross only at a designated crossing. Never use train tracks as a shortcut.
10 safety tips for subway and commuter rail passengers
- Stand back from the edge of the platform.
- Don’t lean over the track to see if a train is coming. Trains might approach from either direction.
- Never step forward until the train is fully stopped and the doors are open.
- Never step on the tracks. If you drop something, inform a police officer or train station personnel. Never try to retrieve it yourself.
- Always walk (don’t run) on a train platform.
- When boarding or exiting a commuter or subway train with doors that open and close quickly, make sure that anything attached to your body (like loose clothes or clothes with drawstrings, long hair, bags or a backpack) is completely through the doors. If you’re traveling with young children, hold their hands and help them on and off the train (reminding them to “mind the gap”). Remember: little legs take small steps. Stepping on or off a train might be easy for you, but it could require more coordination and concentration for a little one.
- Always use designated subway doors. Never board between cars.
- Don’t stop a subway door if it begins to close while you’re entering or exiting the train. A subway door isn’t like an elevator — it won’t reverse course because you put your hand or other object in between.
- Never ride between cars or lean against doors on a moving subway train.
- Hold a pole or hand strap on a moving subway car if you’re standing.
Common causes of train accidents
The 2 main causes of train accidents are human error and equipment failure.
Human error could be on the part of the train operator or it could be the fault of a driver trying to cross the tracks. “Train racing” describes the actions of someone who tries to cross railroad tracks when the train is approaching. If you’re a train passenger injured because of a collision between the train and a car or truck trying to cross the tracks, that driver would be the liable party.
There can also be human error by the conductor or engineer. This might include negligence, like being distracted by a mobile phone, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to follow safety protocols, traveling at an unsafe speed, or otherwise not adhering to the rules of the job.
Equipment failure is another main cause of train accidents. This could include:
- Brake failure or malfunction
- Defective rails or improper track maintenance
- Malfunctioning warning lights, sounds, or gates
- Defective hand brakes
- Broken handrails
- Defective communication equipment
When do you need a train accident lawyer?
If you’re involved in a train accident, you should seek a lawyer’s counsel immediately. You might be involved as a passenger, bystander, car driver, or even a person whose property was damaged by an accident on or near train tracks.
How to receive compensation as an injured railroad employee
Most railroad workers are covered under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA). An employee covered under FELA doesn’t receive workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance, which means a worker is covered for any job-related injury regardless of whether someone was at fault.
FELA is different from workers’ compensation because the worker must prove that the railroad company was negligent. Even so, the railroad company might still have to pay for the worker’s injuries if the railroad was partially responsible and the worker was also partially responsible.
Who’s liable in a New York train accident?
Liability can be complicated, especially if the accident involved a train owned by a municipal authority like MTA. If you need to file a lawsuit against a public transportation entity, the rules will be different than if you’re suing a private person or company.
The liable party could be a vehicle driver, train personnel, the train company, the entity that maintains the safety of the tracks and stations, or the manufacturer of certain parts of the train. Your lawyer will conduct discovery and investigate the accident to determine who’s at fault (there could also be more than one responsible party).
Truck accident injury damages
If you’re injured, you can recover damages intended to compensate you for the costs associated with the accident, including:
- Medical treatment, current and future
- Lost wages from time off of work as a result of the injury, both current and future
- Lost earning capacity if you won’t be able to return to the same job as you had before the accident
- Assistive devices and services if you’re disabled and unable to continue your activities of daily life (for example, house cleaning, child care, or transportation)
- Cost to replace damaged or destroyed property
- Emotional distress, including pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial costs if you’re the surviving family member of a person who died in a train accident
Truck accident statute of limitations
For most New York personal injury claims, there’s a 3-year statute of limitations. That means you have 3 years from the date of the train accident to file your injury claim.
However, filing a claim against a government entity has a different time period — sometimes, just a few months. Your lawyer can make sure that you correctly file a Notice of Claim and other requirements on time in order to preserve your right to compensation.
For all of these reasons, an attorney is your best bet for recovering financial damages. A train accident can be complicated, involve several parties, and you might have suffered catastrophic injuries. You want to be sure to get the compensation you need and deserve.
The Enjuris law firm directory is your guide to finding a New York train accident lawyer who knows how to fully investigate your claim and seek financial recovery.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.