Railroad Safety: Is it More Dangerous to Travel by Car than Rail?

Statistically speaking, traveling by railroad is safer than driving. In 2012 The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported highway deaths at 33,561.  In 2012 there were 1375 railroad fatalities.  But the public has every reason to be alarmed when a string of railroad accidents occur due to lack of safety. Confidence must be restored. And it must not take another tragedy for federal, state and public transportation officials to keep moving in the sound direction of putting a higher premium on safety.

It was almost a year ago that a horrific derailment occurred on a Metro-North Railroad train, leaving four people dead, dozens injured and many questioning the safety of the railroad system. The train had left the Poughkeepsie Rail Station early that morning and was heading toward Grand Central Terminal.  Federal investigators concluded that an emphasis on "on-time performance" had been coming at the expense of safety.

In the last year the Metro-North railroad has only taken a few steps in improving safety.  They recently announced that cameras will be installed on trains to watch engineers.  For railroad employees this feels like an invasion of privacy.  Experts agree other measures should be taken, including installing a system known as "positive train control," which has the ability to slow trains as they go around bends.  Installing cameras to show improved safety standards is just another attempt to avoid the large cost of installing positive train control.

As Virginia (VA) railroad injury lawyers we have watched railroad companies such as Metro-North, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and others put profits above safety for years.  Most members of the public would be astounded at how terrible the interior of a freight engine crew cab looks. First of all, there is absolutely no restraint system-that means no seatbelt or shoulder restraint. Metal floors and metal walls, and the only exceptions are Amtrak modern engines which have been upgraded in their detail. Believe it or not, most railroads never provided air-conditioning in any of the freight engines until the late 1990s and now there is still a large percentage of railroad engines that do not have any air-conditioning for the hot summer months.  When faced with safety mandates by the government the railroad industry has lobbied lawmakers to push safety deadlines farther and farther into the future. As mentioned before Positive Train Control or PTC may have stopped these railroad accidents.  PTC is designed to automatically stop a train before it is able to run a red signal or get itself into other dangerous situations. This is an improvement over the signaling systems that are currently in place, which are able to warn train operators of danger, but still allow the possibility of accidents.


Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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