Due to their enormous size, train accidents are incredibly destructive incidents. Here in Tacoma and surrounding areas, trains are a common site. We use them to transport goods to the Port. Or commute to downtown. Or to take in a soccer game in Seattle or an excursion to Portland. The good news is that train accidents, particularly those causing serious injury or death, are rare events. However, when they do happen, you’re likely to hear about them on the news.
In the post that follows, we’ll provide some general information about how often train accidents occur in Washington State and what causes them. We’ll also arm you with practical steps to take in the unlikely event you or a loved one is seriously injured in a train accident. ‘
Thankfully, train accidents aren’t very common in Washington State. We gathered the following statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis.
The table below shows how many train accidents were reported each year from 2016 to 2021, including deaths and injuries.
It may come as a surprise to you that many train accidents happen without anyone getting hurt. Freight trains may derail or collide causing property damage only (such as to the cars or tracks).
Nationwide, trespassing is the leading cause of all railroad fatalities. Sometimes, this is a deliberate act, such as someone struggling with depression. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes people make mistakes or underestimate the dangers around the railroad tracks.
In 2015, a Tacoma man was out one evening with his local running club. At the base of McCarver Street approaching Ruston Way, the crossing arms were lowered, indicating an approaching train. He watched a freight train go by and thinking it was clear, he attempted to cross the tracks. What he didn’t notice is an Amtrak passenger train coming in the opposite direction. Sadly, this mistake was a fatal one.
On a recent visit to this busy crossing, we noticed that a new sign warns pedestrians of the possibility of two trains.
As pedestrians, we must pay close attention to train tracks. In Tacoma and surrounding areas, there are locations where multiple trains may be present. One example is the busy Tacoma Dome Station, where you’re likely to find the Sound Transit Link, the Sounder train, and am Amtrak train at any given time. In addition to this, freight trains frequent the area along the waterfront, downtown, and through to the Port.
In certain situations, an accident or derailment isn’t the fault of a trespasser, but the railroad company itself.
Here are some scenarios where the railroad company may be responsible:
In December 2017, we had such a tragic incident occur here in Washington. The Amtrak 501 passenger train was traveling on its inaugural run along a new route. Tragically, the train derailed as it began to cross I-5 over a curved portion of rail. Three people were killed, and many more injured. (This incident explains the large number of injured in 2017 in the table earlier in this post.) The cause of this incident was two-fold. First, there was a design flaw. The angle of the curve going over the bridge was very sharp. Second, it was determined that the engineer was speeding, going 50 miles per hour over the speed limit.
What steps should you take if you’ve been seriously injured in a train accident? Or worse, if a loved one has been killed and you suspect the railroad company was negligent in some way?
There are two things we would like you to know right now:
Clearly, a train accident isn’t the same as a car accident. You could be dealing with multiple victims and multiple interested parties. Governing agencies and local authorities will certainly conduct an investigation. And, of course, the railroad company will have a legal team ready and able to represent their interest. We highly recommend you call a well-rated lawyer even if you think there’s a chance the railroad is at fault.
Operation Lifesaver is an international non-profit organization dedicated to reducing train-involved collisions. Washington is an active member of the program.
If you would like to schedule a free presentation (perhaps for a school or club), call 360.664.1264. To learn more, visit the Operation Lifesaver website.
It’s always free and confidential to speak with one of our lawyers. If you have a question about a train accident or other injury matter, please feel free to call us or send a message using the short form on the home page of our website.