Back to Top
Train

How Does a Train Derailment Happen?

After the tragic Amtrak derailment last year near Seattle, Washington, people have been asking questions about train derailment. There are speculations and urban legends about why a train might derail and then there are the facts. Recent news about the Washington tragedy reveals human error may have been to blame. But is that always the case?

Fact vs Fiction About Train Derailment

Among the myths about train derailment is the popular idea that putting a penny on the railroad track can derail a train. While it is not true the train will derail, it is sadly true that trying to flatten a penny on railroad tracks could get a person killed.

The facts of train derailment fall into two basic categories: mechanical problems or human error. Most derailments are minor and are usually caused by defects in the railroad track. Mechanical issues with the train, signal failures and a variety of other factors, such as snow, mudslides, and vandalism, can also lead to derailment.

Human Error and Train Accidents

There is a persistent myth that when it comes to human error in a railroad accident the train conductor fell asleep at the controls. This is one of the rarest of human errors in train accidents, although it has occurred.

A more common factor in cases of human error is train speed. Sometimes the driver exceeds the speed limit, resulting in a derailment. Such may be the case in the Washington State train derailment. If the brakes are not used correctly, the car could go off the tracks.

Objects on the Tracks

Interestingly, objects on the tracks are not a major cause of derailments. Freight trains have been known to obliterate 4,000-pound cars stalled on the tracks. Of course, that isn’t always the case. In 2005, there was a fatal derailment in California when a commuter train collided with an SUV.

By far, the majority of train derailments are caused by problems with the train tracks or problems with equipment. The train wheels must align with the track; if the width of the track deviates over time, the train wheels will not fit the track properly. Fortunately, improvements continue to be made in track inspections, so derailments are fewer than they would be without track monitoring.

The attorneys at Frohlich, Gordon & Beason, P.A., value the health and safety of our friends, family, and clients, and those living in the southwest Florida communities. Specializing in personal injury law, we have offices located in Port Charlotte, Englewood and North Port. If you need legal assistance with your personal injury case, contact us by phone or email. We will provide you with a complimentary initial consultation.

Categories