Railroad Injury

Railroad injuries are more common than most people realize. Employees of railroads face the biggest risks and are most often the victims of accidents. Laws allow these workers to take legal action to recover damages after suffering injuries on the job.

Railroad Injury Facts and Statistics

Railroad accidents can cause serious injuries and fatalities. While the safety of the industry has generally improved over the years, accidents and incidents still happen all the time.

The industry defines train accidents as any safety-related event that involves track, structural, or equipment damage over a certain threshold. Train incidents are divided into highway crossing incidents—collisions between trains and something on the tracks—and others.[1]

According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis:[2]

  • The total number of incidents and accidents increased by 1.5% between 2016 and 2019.
  • There were 813 accidents/incidents in 2019.
  • Total fatalities increased from 814 in 2018 to 898 in 2019, while fatalities caused by train accidents fell.  
  • Employee fatalities dropped by nearly 36% from 2016 to 2019.
  • Injuries and fatalities in railroad trespassers increased from 2016 to 2019.
  • The leading causes of railroad accidents and incidents in 2019 were highway crossings, derailments, yard accidents, and human error.

What Are the Most Common Types of Railroad Accidents and Injuries?

While passengers may be injured or even killed on railroads, these incidents are much less common than employee injuries and fatalities. Many workers in the industry do dangerous, high-risk jobs. Accidents that occur on railroads and in railyards include:

  • Highway crossing incidents, striking animals, pedestrians, or vehicles
  • Collisions between trains
  • Derailments
  • Signal failures
  • Brake failures
  • Shifting cargo loads
  • Equipment defects or failures
  • Defective tracks
  • Speeding

The severity of the accident varies, but any of these types of incidents can potentially cause injuries in workers:

  • Head, neck, or back injuries
  • Burns
  • Electrocutions
  • Fractured bones
  • Traumatic brain injury or concussion
  • Crushed or lost limbs
  • Ligament or tendon injuries
  • Fatalities

How Do Railroad Employees Get Compensated after an Accident?

Most people turn to workers’ compensation insurance when injured on the job. This is a type of insurance most employers are required to hold. It compensates workers for things like medical expenses and lost wages. To make a claim, workers do not need to prove any negligence, but they also generally cannot sue an employer for further damages.

Railroad workers are in a different category. Instead of workers’ compensation, railroad employees are protected under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). A major difference between the two systems is that railroad workers must prove negligence to receive compensation.[3]

How Do Workers Prove Negligence in a Railroad Accident?

The need to prove negligence may seem like a downside, but the truth is that it is very rare to have an accident on a railroad that does not involve some negligence. The railroad is obligated to provide workers with a reasonably safe environment, or it can be found negligent and liable for damages. The railroad is responsible for:

  • Providing reasonably safe equipment and tools
  • Inspecting the work environment on a regular basis and addressing any hazards
  • Training employees
  • Supervising and assisting employees
  • Keeping workers safe from intentional harm
  • Enforcing safety guidelines and rules
  • Giving workers reasonable hours and work quotas.

As compared to other personal injury and negligence cases, the burden of proving fault is lower with railroad accidents. The victim only needs to show that the railroad or employer had some degree of negligence that led to the accident, injuries, and damages.

Can Passengers Seek Compensation?

Employees of the railroad are involved in and injured by accidents far more often than passengers. Passengers on trains do sometimes suffer injuries, and they also may seek compensation for damages incurred.

Railroads have a duty of care to passengers, which means they must make the transportation as safe as is reasonably possible. The duty is higher for passengers than for people outside the train, such as drivers in cars crossing tracks.

A passenger can sue the railroad company, an employee, the driver of a vehicle that caused a train accident, a train or train parts manufacturer, or others deemed negligent in causing injuries. Passengers may be able to get a settlement from the defendant’s insurance company. They may also begin a lawsuit and take them to court for compensation.

What to Do after a Railroad Accident

Passengers injured in railroad accident should get medical attention, get information from witnesses and employees if possible, and talk to a personal injury lawyer. For employees, the steps to take after an accident or incident are a little different:

  1. Get Medical Care. This is always a priority, especially in the case of severe injuries. Keep all records and bills associated with the accident. Make sure you see your own doctor, not just someone assigned to you by the railroad.
  2. Report the Incident. The next most important thing to do is file an injury report. Notify your employer of the accident and complete the proper forms. Be as accurate as possible and get information from witnesses as well. Report the incident to your union representative.
  3. Identify Safety Violations. Make note of any safety violations that occurred at the time of, or leading up to, the accident. This will be important for legal action. Get notes from other employees who witnessed violations.
  4. Track Missed Work Time. If you are unable to return to work because of the injury, keep a record of time missed. Also, record the amount of income you lose due to being unable to work.
  5. Talk to a Lawyer About a FELA Claim. If you believe the accident should have been prevented by the railroad, even if you think you had some fault in it, contact a lawyer. You may have a valid claim for compensation through FELA.

A railroad accident can be serious, causing severe injury or even death. If you have suffered an injury on the job, talk to a lawyer experienced in working with FELA claims and personal injury cases. They can help you get the compensation you need.

  1. U.S. Department of Transportation. Federal Railroad Administration. (2019, February 3). Accident/Incident Definitions.
    Retrieved from: https://railroads.dot.gov/forms-guides-publications/guides/accidentincident-definitions
  2. Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. (2020, October 29). Total Accidents/Incidents, Jan. – Dec. (2019 preliminary).
    Retrieved from: https://safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety/publicsite/summary.aspx
  3. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). 45 U.S. Code § 51. Liability of Common Carriers by Railroad, in Interstate or Foreign Commerce, for Injuries to Employees from Negligence; Employee Defined.
    Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/45/51