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What causes train derailments?

On Behalf of | Apr 27, 2020 | Personal Injury

Train accidents may occur with passenger or cargo trains. They can happen anywhere, even in areas with seemingly safe and flat, straight tracks. In fact, while many people may assume challenging tracks, such as those that go uphill or around curves, are the main reason for derailments, the reality is a little scarier because it shows that any track can be hazardous and lead to a derailment. 

According to Scientific American, there are three leading causes of train derailments. However, of these three, the top cause is by far the most common. Broken tracks are the major reason why trains derail, and they can occur anywhere trains travel, from city commuter rails to rural freight lines. 

Broken tracks 

When maintenance of tracks is lacking, it can lead to broken welds and rails that provide an uneven and ineffective surface for the train’s wheels. A train that travels across such an issue may suffer stability issues and come off the track. During a derailment it is not uncommon for cars to tip over, causing a domino effect throughout the whole train and increasing the chances of serious injuries to those on board. 

Track geometry 

The second most common cause of train derailments is track geometry. This refers to the interaction between the train and track due to the shape of the track and includes problems with elevation and the alignment of the train while traveling. One simple example is that tracks which do not run straight have a higher chance of causing issues because they require more care in design and maintenance. 

Bearing failure 

The third most common cause is bearing failures, which is a mechanical issue with the axles of a train car. As with the other issues that can lead to train derailments, this is an avoidable problem. Regular and routine maintenance should catch such defects and prevent them from causing an accident.