Chicago Transit Authority Train Crash, O’Hare Subway Station, Chicago, Illinois – March 24, 2014
At least 32 people were injured due to a train wreck inside the Chicago O’Hare International Airport subway station. The Chicago Transit Authority train overran a bumper and jumped the tracks, causing two of its eight railcars to plow through the station and up an escalator. The investigation into this train accident found that the train operator, who had only been working on this post for 60 days, fell asleep on the job after working a large amount of overtime. The train operator also admitted to falling asleep and overshooting another station stop just one month prior to this train accident. Investigations into the causes of this crash were made more difficult because the train lacked an event recorder. The NTSB noted that two backup braking systems, which should have worked to prevent the train accident, failed to stop the train in time.
Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line Derailment at Spuyten Duyvil, The Bronx, New York City – December 1, 2013
The first Metro-North train crash to result in fatalities occurred after the engineer went into a “daze” while operating the train and drove it around a curve at over three times the posted speed limit. The excessive speed caused the train to derail, killing four and injuring 61. The NTSB investigation into the train accident found that the engineer was suffering from undiagnosed sleep-apnea which may have contributed to his sleepy or inattentive state. The NTSB blamed both Metro-North and the FRA for not having screening requirements for sleep disorders in employees in “safety sensitive” positions. The NTSB also highlighted the fact that a Positive Train Control (PTC) system would have entirely prevented this train wreck.
Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster, Quebec, Canada – July 6, 2013
One of the most destructive and costly train accidents in history, took place just a few years ago. A freight train hauling crude oil from North Dakota to Eastern Canada was experiencing trouble with its engine. Expecting the large quantities of smoke it was producing to die down overnight, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) operating the train, decided they would deal with the problem in the morning and ordered the train be parked for the night. The engineer, according to MMA requirements, set the hand brakes on seven of the rail cars and left the train’s engine on in order to continue supplying power to the air brakes before leaving. Smoke continued to pour from the distressed train and police and fire departments were called to the scene when a fire broke out in the engine. The authorities shut down the locomotive’s engine in order to prevent further fuel going to the fire and in doing so, cut off the power to the air brakes. The seven hand brakes failed to hold the 72-car train allowing it to roll downhill toward the town of Lac-Mégantic. The train derailed in the downtown center and exploded into flames as nearly six million liters of petroleum oil spilled from the train accident. The fires immediately destroyed most of the downtown area before spreading to the rest of the town as oil went through the sewers. In the end, most of the town center was destroyed and almost 50 people were reported dead or missing. Due to this high profile train wreck, the MMA was criminally investigated and it eventually filed for bankruptcy. Afterward, many changes were put in place for all Canadian railway operators in order to prevent similar tragedies.
Metro-North Railroad Train Derailment, Fairfield, Connecticut – May 17, 2013
A massive train accident happened after an undetected break in a pair of joint bars on the railroad track caused a Metro-North train to derail. The railcars then fell onto the adjacent track where they were struck by another Metro-North passenger train heading in the opposite direction. Between the two locomotives involved, at least 72 people were injured during the train accident, some critically. Sadly, this accident was very much preventable. During an inspection two days before the train crash, the railroad had discovered vertical track movement around the rail joint. However, Metro-North chose to defer scheduled maintenance after deeming the problem insufficient to merit immediate repair, even though a cracked joint bar had been repaired only a month prior in the same area. In its investigation, the NTSB found that Metro-North did not have a comprehensive program in place to prioritize corrective track maintenance once having been alerted to the various issues at hand.
Burlington VIA Derailment, Canada – February 26, 2012
A devastating train wreck occurred in Burlington, Ontario, Canada after the crew of the VIA train misread or failed to notice a signal that called for the train to slow down before a track change. The train proceeded at its regular speed of 67 mph instead of slowing to the required 15 mph. The high speed caused the train to derail at the crossover between tracks, resulting in three deaths and 46 injuries. The investigation into the causes of this train accident put forth several theories as to why the crew failed to obey the slow signal, including that a track change at that crossover was unusual, a maintenance crew working ahead of the train may have diverted focus, and that the advance warning signal was given just before a stop—which may have caused the crew to forget about the warning.
California Zephyr Amtrak Train Crash, Reno, Nevada – June 24, 2011
Due to improper truck maintenance and driver inattention, a 50,000-pound semi failed to brake soon enough to stop at a red signal and crashed through the warning gate into a California Zephyr Amtrak train. Unable to stop in time, the huge tractor-trailer punched through the side of the train, killing six people and injuring 15 in this horrific train wreck. As a result, the NTSB recommended that passenger trains be upgraded to meet side impact strength requirements. Most of the blame was placed on the trucking company for failing to maintain the brakes on the vehicle and allowing its driver, who had a known history of moving violations and accidents, to operate the truck while experiencing fatigue, using a cell phone, and having an ankle injury. Unfortunately, because of the trucking company’s negligence in hiring and training their driver, many people were killed or seriously harmed in this train crash.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail Train Crash, Washington, D.C. – June 22, 2009
A faulty track circuit failed to report that a stretch of railroad track was already occupied by a stopped train, which also failed to engage the Automatic Train Control system. Due to the failed circuit, the stopped train was basically invisible to the rail system and proceeded to give green lights, commanding another train further down the tracks to continue at full speed. The oncoming train applied the emergency brake once the stopped train was visible, but sadly it was not enough to prevent the train wreck. In the resulting investigation into the causes of this train crash, it was discovered that six other circuits had been malfunctioning and that the faulty circuit responsible for this train accident had been malfunctioning since 2007, yet had never been repaired. The design of the train cars were also singled out for a lack of crashworthiness that had been noted by safety agencies several years prior, but had continued to be used by WMATA. As a result of this crash, the railroad tested and fixed the faulty track circuits and also retired the use of the un-crashworthy railcars. Nine died and 52 others were injured in this train accident.
Metrolink Commuter Train / Union Pacific Train Crash, Chatsworth, California – September 12, 2008
A train wreck that will live on as one of the deadliest in our nation’s history, occurred when a Metrolink commuter train ran a red stop signal and proceeded onto a single track on which another freight train was already traveling in Chatsworth, California. The trains collided head-on and both derailed. After the train accident it was discovered that the Metrolink engineer was texting. In his distraction, the operator never applied his brakes. Upon seeing the oncoming passenger train, the freight train engineer did apply the emergency air brakes, but, sadly, it was not enough to avoid the train crash. Due to this incident, 25 people lost their lives and 135 were injured. As a result of this train accident, bans against using cell phones while operating a train or car were implemented in many areas across the country, and the argument in favor of Positive Train Control (PTC) intensified. Wisner Baum represented eight passengers from the Metrolink Chatsworth crash, including two individuals who died and six who were badly injured.