As its name implies, high-speed rail involves trains traveling at significantly greater speeds than traditional trains. Since the launch of Japan’s “bullet train” in 1964, many countries have adopted this technology, which carries passengers at speeds well over 180 miles per hour. In 2000, Amtrak introduced the first high-speed rail service in the U.S., Acela Express, which serves Washington, DC, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.
The primary distinction in high-speed trains are the two track types on which they operate. Trains such as those in Japan and France run on dedicated tracks, which are specifically configured for higher velocities. Conversely, systems like the Acela Express and the Spanish rail system, which recently experienced a major accident with over 40 fatalities, operate on a hybrid rails on which only specific parts of the track are specifically configured for high-speed travel. On hybrid rails, much of the track is actually shared with slower trains and is only capable of handling lower speeds.
While hybrid rails are not, in and of themselves, problematic for high-speed trains, operators must adjust speed to account for track capabilities. Unlike high-speed dedicated tracks, which utilize banked curves to prevent trains from derailing, hybrid rails require high-speed trains to reduce their speed in order to avoid derailment. By strictly adhering to maximize rates of speed, high-speed trains can avoid most derailment risks associated with velocity.
The recent disaster on the Madrid-Ferrol route in Spain demonstrates the ultimate danger posed by high-speed trains exceeding the limited speeds hybrid tracks can accommodate. In this accident, the train rounded an unbanked hybrid track curve at about 120 miles per hour, despite the track only being rated for speeds of 50 miles per hour or below. In such instances, derailment is often unavoidable.
High-speed trains are far from the only source of accidents on America’s railways, with serious injuries occurring on commuter trains and freight trains alike. When railroad negligence harms passengers or employees, securing a legal team with knowledge of the railroad industry is of the utmost importance to recovery.