In light of the spate of recent high profile railway disasters in the United States and Canada, many experts are digging deeper to determine the causes of these railroad accidents. While human error plays a role in certain crashes, there are a variety of systemic issues that also affect safety. As the crude oil boom continues throughout the U.S., necessitating increases in railroad transport of petroleum products, it is increasingly important to improve the safety of the railroad system.

Not so thick skin: weak tankers


One of the most troubling revelations that came out of this year’s deadly crash in Quebec, which claimed over 90 lives, was the prevalence of design defects in railcars used to transport crude oil. Specifically, regulators identified a railcar called the DOT-111 as particularly vulnerable to the type of leaks that lead to explosions. Specifically, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board officials have linked the DOT-111's design to heightened risks of tank failure. According to some reports, a newer DOT-111 design is available with thicker shells and greater protection, however, the extent to which the new design has been adopted remains unknown.


No break time before brake time

Another cause for alarm is the brake system in certain trains. While most trains are outfitted with sophisticated air brake systems, hand brakes also play an important role in keeping parked trains immobile. Since handbrakes must be operated manually, human error will unfortunately always leave open the possibility for brake related mishaps

Regulation and oversight


In addition to mechanical problems and design issues, industry watchdogs are also calling for improved regulation of the railroad industry to ensure that the rails can handle increased volumes of crude oil. The financial costs associated with these heightened safety standards may, however, negatively affect of the stock prices of freight companies, as they expend capital to meet government requirements. Safety advocates urge greater oversight, without regard to financial costs to the industry at large.

Regardless of their cause, rail accidents can lead to serious, lifelong injuries, which require not only excellent medical care, but representation by a qualified attorney with expertise in the field.