New Jersey Transit is one of the main providers of public transportation in New Jersey and beyond. In fact, New Jersey Transit’s bus and rail network actually span across three states: Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Commuters and other riders can ride NJ Transit trains into Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station via the Atlantic City line. Riders can also connect into Philadelphia by transferring at Trenton to SEPTA trains. As for connections to New York, an array of New Jersey Transit lines connect. For instance, the Pascack Valley line runs from Spring Valley, NY to Hoboken, NJ. The Northeast Corridor, New Jersey Coast, and other lines travel through New Jersey and terminate in New York City’s Pennsylvania Station.
While most rail trips are completed successfully and without major incident, the risk of a serious train crash is ever-present. Railroads like New Jersey Transit typically endeavor to minimize this risk, however, safety oversights by management or employees can significantly increase the risk of a crash.
Why Do Train Crashes Occur?
Train crashes can occur for a variety of reasons ranging from action or inaction taken by engineers and conductors to mechanical issues or defects in the railroad equipment. Common reasons for railroad accidents can include:
- Employee distraction – Conductors, engineers and other workers on a train must prioritize a multitude of concerns. These concerns can include from questions asked by passengers, ensuring fares are paid and ensuring that railroad rules are followed. In some cases, low priority tasks can distract workers from imminent concerns.
- Use of alcohol or drugs by railroad workers – As in all jobs where the safety of others is in a workers hands, railroad workers should never consume alcohol or illegal drugs when they are on the clock. These substances impair decision making and significantly increase the likelihood of a serious incident.
- Mechanical failure of equipment – Routine maintenance is a key aspect in protecting railroad equipment from regular wear and tear that makes equipment failure more likely. However, equipment can fail at any time. When it does, the risk of a derailment or other train accident increases significantly.
- Human error by an engineer – In some instances, train accidents are caused by a simple mistake by an engineer or another worker on the train. For instance, the engineer may mistakenly open the throttle when he or she intended to slow the vehicle.
The above captures only some of the more common reasons for train accidents. A variety of other factors can contribute to making a collision or crash inevitable.
What Types of Train Crashes Occur?
Unfortunately, there are an array of different types of accidents a train and its passengers can be involved in. Perhaps the most straightforward and well-known accident type is a train derailment. Derailments can occur for a variety of reasons including a train that approaches a curve at excessive speeds, debris on the tracks, or equipment that is beyond its useful service life. Derailments frequently result in severe injuries since train cars are likely to tip or overturn when an accident of this type occurs.
Trains can also be involved in train-to-train collisions on the tracks. In many cases, train collisions are precipitated by confusion and miscommunication. Miscommunication can result in mistakes in switching tracks. In certain instances, trains can end up on the same set of tracks. Other mistakes that can result in train collisions include engineers and conductors who misreport their train’s location or who operate the train at excessive and unanticipated speeds.
One other type of common train accident involves scenarios where the train is hit by foreign objects. In more rural areas, the main concern in this regard may be falling rocks down the side of a sharp incline. Rocks can strike the train and cause direct injuries or rocks or other debris can come to rest on the tracks leading to a collision between the train and the foreign object. In more urban areas, train conductors sometimes must contend with third parties who throw stones or shoot BB guns at the train. While there is always a risk that the stone or BB pellet will strike a conductor and engineer and render them unconscious or otherwise unable to operate the train, even when these projectiles miss workers and passengers they present a risk. The impact caused by stones or BB pellets can distract the engineer from operating the train and lead to situations where he or she loses awareness of where the vehicle is or chooses to operate the train at higher than expected speeds to escape the perceived threat.
How Do Injuries Occur in Train Crashes?
Unfortunately, the injuries that are inflicted in train crashes and derailments are frequently serious and life-altering. In some cases, injuries are so severe that they are fatal. One reason why train collisions often produce severe or fatal injuries is due to the fact that they are massive vehicles that travel at high rates of speed. When these vehicles collide or crash into objects, thousands of pounds of debris can rain down, trap, and potentially crush passengers.
Even if debris does not further exacerbate the situation, the lack of seatbelts in most trains means that passengers are likely to be thrown about the cabin. Thus, “second impact” injuries are exceedingly common in train crashes. Passengers may collide with structures in the train, such as seats or support pillars. They may also be thrown into each other. Finally, luggage and bags carried by passengers are rarely secured. In a train crash, these items can act as dangerous projectiles and may inflict numerous additional injuries.
What Types of Injuries Are Commonly Suffered in Train Accidents?
Due to the force of the impact, debris, and projectiles in the train cabin an array of mild, moderate, and severe injuries can be inflicted in a train crash. Common injuries that may be suffered in a crash or derailment include:
- Severe bruising or lacerations – Passengers being jostled about the train car can result in numerous superficial injuries being inflicted to the individual’s arms, legs, face, and other body parts. While most cuts and bruises will heal on their own, some will require stitches or other medical attention.
- Broken bones – the impact of the train crash can also cause life-altering bone fractures to any body part. Breaks can range from simple breaks that will heal after being set in the cast to compound breaks from which recovery may require multiple surgeries and months or years of physical therapy.
- Brain injuries – Injuries to the skull and brain are one of the most concerning types of injuries a person can suffer. This is chiefly because the brain is the control center for the body and damage to the brain and its structures can affect all other aspects of the body’s functions. Any individual that suspects a traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion, or another brain injury should immediately seek medical treatment.
- Whiplash – Whiplash is one of the most common injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. Whiplash is an injury that is caused by the rapid change in speed and momentum after a crash. The differences in forces acting inside and outside of an individual’s skull can result in shearing of the muscle and connective tissue in the head and neck. This shearing can result in an array of problems that range from minor to rehabilitating.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Aside from the physical consequences of a train accident, mental injuries can also be inflicted. Those who are present for a derailment or other serious train accident may witness the death or infliction of horrible injuries to a loved one. While mental injuries can be actionable, they are subject to more restrictions on recovery than physical injuries and are often more difficult to prove.
The above captures only the more common injuries that are inflicted due to train collisions, derailments, and other accidents. Unfortunately, individuals can suffer many other life-altering or fatal injuries in a train crash.
Hurt in an NJ Transit Train Accident and Are In Need of a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you have suffered a serious injury due to an NJ transit train crash or derailment, the personal injury lawyers of Reiff & Bily may be able to put their more than 36 years of experience to work for you. Likewise, you may be able to secure compensation if a family member was killed due to negligence or other mistakes by an engineer, conductor, or railroad maintenance personnel. To schedule a free and confidential consultation at our Philadelphia law firm, call (215) 274-0072 today. You may also contact the firm by completing the form located in the upper left-hand sidebar.