Keeping Track of Disturbing Information about Recent U.S. Train Accidents


The conditions of train tracks in New York that are owned by CSX Corp. have drawn the ire of U.S. Senators and prompted a federal investigation, and it now appears that the company is facing similar problems in Alabama, where train accidents have climbed in the last ten years.

In the last month and a half, Alabama has been the witness of two high-profile train accidents:

  • On May 2, a train carrying solid rocket boosters for NASA's space shuttle derailed in Myrtlewood. Six people suffered personal injuries in this Alabama train accident.
  • On May 29th, a CSX train derailed near Castleberry and released the toxic chemical phenol. While no personal injuries have been reported for this incident, more than 200 people had to evacuate the area after the derailment.

The nature and timing of these Alabama train accidents prompted the Montgomery Adviser to conduct an investigation of these types of accidents in the state, and the story provided some very interesting things to think about.

Specifically, the story detailed how Alabama train accidents have doubled in the last ten years, from 37 accidents in 1997 to 75 accidents in 2006. There have been a grand total of 613 train accidents in Alabama in the last 10 years, with most of them (approximately 73.6 percent) being attributed to human mistakes or deteriorating track conditions.

The condition of Alabama train tracks is an especially important source of concern as more than half of the train accidents in the state last year were attributed to this cause.

So what has contributed to Alabama train accidents being more the result of track conditions than human errors? The story attributes more worker training programs as leading to fewer train accidents by human error and cited recent hurricanes as possible reasons why Alabama train tracks have deteriorated and caused problems.

The story also contacted CSX Corp, which said through a company spokeswoman that it spends more than $1 billion annually to improve and maintain tracks. The story said that most of that money goes to routine maintenance, which just keeps the line up to Federal Railroad Administration Standards and does not increase a line's capacity.

While CSX Corp. is expected to increase the line's capacity as the state is expecting more rail traffic in years to come, this hasn't eased the concerns of at least one FRA spokesman. Specifically, Warren Flatau was described in the story as saying that it will be hard to prevent Alabama train accidents from increasing; a scary thought indeed.

Other Train Accident News!

While the deteriorating conditions of Alabama train tracks has caused some concern, human error, make that negligence and a lack of responsibility, were the main culprits of a recent Massachusetts train accident.

Two train workers were killed while four others suffered personal injuries in a Woburn train accident in January that was attributed to the workers failing to install a safety device which activates a signal to train conductors that workers were nearby on the tracks. A recent Boston Globe story detailed some disturbing information about this Massachusetts train accident. Specifically, it appears that the metal shunt device was found in a truck nearby and that a dispatcher mistakenly let the train go through the work site.

Of even more concern, a source close to the investigation revealed that one of the workers who was hit by the train tested positive for marijuana. The story then detailed how the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad does not have the authority under federal law to drug test workers who are members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

The story added that the MBCR has reached a "good faith" safety agreement with the FRA in which the railroad will try to get its workers' union to agree to random drug testing. Here's hoping that an agreement can be reached as this isn't the first time that positive drug tests have been linked with train accidents in the state. Last June, two employees tested positive for drugs and alcohol during a fatal train accident in Gloucester.

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