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Canada, France Train Accidents Raise Safety Concerns

Craig McClellan

Recent train accidents in Canada and France have caused many people to question the safety of train travel and transport. Are there enough safeguards in place on U.S. railways to protect train passengers and the public?

Causes of Recent Train Crashes

France: Rail officials suspect that an unattached rail joint caused the train derailment in France that killed at least six people and injured 200. Investigators believe that a piece of rail disconnected in the switching system, preventing the train from passing over the rail/switch.

Canada: A very different culprit may be at issue in the Canada rail crash. Authorities believe that someone or something disabled the air brakes on the train, which was supposed to remain stationary for the remainder of the evening. The train rolled down a light slope and derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic. Because the train was carrying oil, the derailment of 72 tanker cars caused an immense explosion. At least 14 people were killed in this accident and 35 are still missing.

Train Safety In The U.S.

Since these accidents occurred, safety experts in the U.S. have answered multiple questions regarding train safety. Like in Canada, companies frequently transport oil on trains in the U.S., and train companies will leave U.S. trains unmanned (this may, however, change in the coming months). Unlike in Canada, it is rare for a train to have a one-person crew. In both Canada and the U.S., however, safety officials have warned railroad companies about the danger involved with these types of tankers/trains. Safety advocates argue that it shouldn't take a large accident like the one in Canada before the government considers additional safety regulations in areas of concern.

Train derailments like the accident in France are also just as likely in the U.S., though most U.S. trains travel much slower than the French train. Just this year, a train derailed in Connecticut after two trains collided, injuring dozens of people. That train collision was also caused by a fractured rail.

Are trains in the U.S. safe? Yes and no. Train travel is considered the second safest form of passenger transportation (second only to airplane travel). Yet, accidents do happen and some believe the government doesn't do enough to promote train and rail safety. What do you think?