While trains are convenient for travel and for transporting goods, they have become a greater danger over the years as their speed has increased. Sometimes railroad accidents are caused by human error, but other causes include derailment, explosions on board, and bridge collapses. When a passenger is hurt while using public transportation, the public transportation provider may be held legally responsible for the passenger’s injuries. Under the law, public transportation providers like city and state-operated trains, buses and light rail systems, are referred to as “common carriers.”
Metrolink is a regional rail system that provides transportation to people in Los Angeles County traveling between Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. Metrolink was designed as a public transit system to reduce the congestion on highways and to improve the overall mobility throughout Southern California. Many Los Angeles County residents use the Metrolink and depend on it for their daily transportation needs.
While Metrolink’s ridership is the seventh largest in the nation among commuter rail systems, it has the second highest number of deaths, behind only New Jersey transit, whose trains travel six times as many miles as Metrolink trains on a yearly basis and carry five times as many passengers. The Federal Railroad Administration reports that in one six year period, 39 out of 61 passenger fatalities across the nation involved Metrolink trains. Metrolink accidents in Glendale in 2005 and in Chatsworth in 2008 accounted for nearly all of the 39 deaths. From 1998 to 2008, Metrolink has had 99 fatalities, more than other commuter rail systems with nearly eight times the ridership.
Under California law, common carriers are held to a higher standard of care than other transportation services or even other drivers. Civil Code §2100 states that common carriers “must use the utmost care and diligence for (passengers’) safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.”
Despite these higher standards, there are still an alarming number of accidents involving common carriers, such as Metrolink. Metrolink accidents can be caused by a number of reasons, including:
- • Derailment of cars
- • Collisions of freight trains and passenger trains
- • Runaway freight cars
- • Improperly parked train cars
- • Negligent railway maintenance
- • Negligent security at trains or railroad stations
- • Commuter rail and light rail accidents
- • Sudden train movements
- • Wrongful death
- • Inadequate maintenance of rail terminals
- • Failure to warn safety hazards
- • On the job accidents
- • Negligence in railroad crossing design and maintenance
- • Negligence of conductors or engineers
- • Excessive speed
Many laws are in place to protect the safety of train passengers. After the Metrolink Chatsworth tragedy, the United States Congress approved the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which requires railway agencies to install, by the end of December 2015, a satellite-linked system that will automatically stop trains that run red lights. Metrolink is also looking at “automatic train stop” devices, a 1940s technology that would automatically stop a train that runs a signal. This is being considered as an interim step until positive train control can be installed.