A CSX freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and caught fire near Maryville, TN in July of 2015. The toxic fumes created by the fire forced approximately 5,000 people in a 2-mile radius to evacuate.
According to the formal accident report on the CSX accident, the train derailed after a roller bearing failed due to overheating.
You may wonder: who investigates railroad accidents? How do they determine what caused the accident?
Here are some basic procedures surrounding railroad accident investigations.
Who Investigates Railroad Accidents?
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for investigating railroad accidents.
After an accident occurs, field personnel are sent to the site to determine if a formal investigation is required. About 100 accidents per year require a formal investigation by the FRA.
Not all accident need a formal investigation, but all accidents involving a fatality or serious injury to a passenger or crew member require a formal investigation. (For a full list of criteria of incidents that require a formal railroad accident investigation, read Railroad Reportable Accidents and Incidents.)
According to the FRA, most accidents fall into three categories:
- Rail Equipment (collisions and derailments)
- Highway-Rail Grade Crossing incidents
- Fatalities (employee and contractor)
Once it is determined that an accident needs to be formally investigated, the FRA Headquarters notifies one of the eight regional FRA offices, who then assigns an investigator to the accident. The Tennessee regional office is located in Atlanta.
Investigators for the FRA specialize in different types of accidents – including hazardous materials, track and structure and highway rail-grade crossing.
What is the Investigation Process?
Generally, once it is determined that the accident requires a formal investigation, most investigations involve:
- Inspecting and testing the railroad track and other infrastructure involved in the accident.
- Interviewing witnesses, crew and employees involved in the accident.
- Reviewing maintenance records and employee training records.
- Finding and reviewing the black box.
In addition to the investigation by the FRA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may also investigate the accident if it involves a passenger train or if a freight train accident involves a large loss of life or property damage.
For more information on railroad accidents and their causes, read: Railroad Accident Causes.
If you’ve been involved in a railroad accident, contact the experienced Tennessee railroad accident attorneys at Gilreath & Associates.