Train and railroad crossing collision cases are very different from other automobile collision cases. And, while many of the laws applicable to standard car accident cases are also applicable in collisions involving trains, train collision cases also have their own particular laws, applicable only in the railroad context.

What Are Common Causes of Train Accidents?

Unfortunately, the majority of train accidents are a result of negligence, and here are the other most common causes: 


Negligent actions are the primary cause of train accidents and derailments. That includes negligence on the part of a railway company, conductor, employee, passenger, etc. For example: 

  • Railway Company: Failure to regularly inspect and repair tracks and switches, negligent hiring, failing to provide adequate training to staff, negligent security, negligent supervision, and more.
  • Train Operator: Operating the train while distracted, fatigued, forgetting to turn on the signal warning, or engaging in other reckless actions, such as being intoxicated on the job or speeding. A conductor may travel at an unsafe speed to meet a deadline or transportation hours, but it can lead to a catastrophic accident. 
  • Employee: Working while fatigued, impaired, riding on loading equipment, failing to inspect equipment or report poor train or track conditions, improper storage of hazardous chemicals on board, and more. 
  • Passenger: Pushing another passenger onto the tracks, physical assault, etc.

Human Error

Human error is another common cause of train accidents. For instance, an inexperienced conductor who makes a mistake while operating the train, the mishandling of construction equipment near train tracks, a railroad employee who mistakenly harms a passenger, etc. When it comes to trains and railways, even a small or simple mistake can have devastating repercussions. 

Mechanical Failures

Some train accidents are caused by mechanical failure, which is why these massive machines and their complex systems require continuous inspection and maintenance. Occasionally, a mechanical failure will happen due to a defective train part, which would subject the part’s manufacturer to liability. 

Driver or Pedestrian Error

Reckless motorists or pedestrians can also contribute to a train accident. For example, a driver or pedestrian may not be paying attention and will fail to see a rail crossing or will ignore the crossing bars and continue on in an attempt to beat the train.


Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. v. Shanklin

The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. v. Shanklin, caused significant changes in railroad litigation. The Shanklin court held that federal regulations governing the installation and adequacy of warning and protective devices at railroad crossings pre-empt state tort claims concerning a railroad’s failure to maintain adequate warning devices at crossings, where federal funds have participated in the installation of the devices.

As such, Shanklin has virtually done away with the opportunity to offer evidence that the railroad should have been required to erect signals, lights, and gates as opposed to just crossbuck or passive crossing signs.

Despite this change in the law, claims against the railroad for negligent maintenance of a crossing, for allowing vegetation to grow up on the railroad right-of-way and obstruct the view of both motorists and the train crew, or for constructing a “humped” crossing, or for otherwise for maintaining a dangerous crossing are not pre-empted, and can be successfully litigated if handled correctly.

Railroad Crossing Collisions

Railroad crossing collisions don’t just “happen,” and rarely occur simply because of inattention on the part of the motorist. Instead, such accidents are usually related to some negligence on the part of the railroad, with the main causes being obstruction of view and inadequate crossing construction, including construction of a humped crossing. (A “humped” crossing is a crossing at which the railroad bed is higher than the road it is crossing, causing a hump for the motorist to cross.)

Train collisions usually occur at open crossings, or crossings with passive signage—that is, warnings of a railroad crossing as evidenced only by crossbuck signs posted on either side of the railroad tracks that identify it as a public crossing.

Typically state statutes require the railroad to sound warnings, usually a quarter of a mile before reaching the crossing and continuing on through the crossing. Violations of a state’s precautions act, or other statute requiring the sounding of an audible signal within a quarter of a mile of a crossing, are strong bases for liability, and are often involved in crossing collisions.

When evaluating liability in a train accident case, it is important to keep the following considerations in mind:

(1) The railway tracks cross a public road.
(2) The public has just as much right to cross a railroad track as that railroad has a right to traverse its rails.
(3) The railroad is granted a franchise or a license for a charter right-of-way from the public, and with that license come two basic obligations of the railroad:

(a) to maintain a safe crossing, and
(b) to operate trains through the community at a reasonable rate of speed considering all existing circumstances.

For a discussion of Minnesota’s no fault system and other considerations relevant to standard car accident cases, please contact our experienced Minneapolis train accident attorneys.

How Can a Minneapolis Train Accident Attorney Help?

Methods of public transportation, including trains, are regulated under both federal and state common carrier laws. As a result, common carriers are expected to exercise a high degree of caution when it comes to passenger safety. When negligence or an intentional action leads to a train accident resulting in a personal injury or death, multiple parties, including the railway company, may be liable. As a result, these claims can quickly become complex. 

For a train accident claim to succeed against any defendant (at-fault party), the claimant must show that their injury or loved one’s death was caused by the defendant’s breach of a duty of care owed to the victim. However, a common carrier’s elevated standard of care owed to passengers does not impose absolute liability. In other words, you will need to prove an act or a failure to act on the part of the defendant directly caused your injury or loved one’s death. In which case, an attorney’s extensive resources to investigate and collect the essential evidence you need will be vital.

An attorney experienced in handling train accident cases will help you determine which parties can be held responsible and ensure you have a solid claim. In addition, they will be there to guide you through the claims process, handle all communication with the insurance companies, and negotiate to fight for the compensation you deserve. 

Contact Our Minneapolis Train Accident Lawyers

If you or your family have suffered damages resulting from a poorly maintained railway or railroad accident, the lawyers at Hall Law, P.A. can help. Contact our firm for a free consultation to discuss the facts surrounding your case. (800) 292-1979.