What Makes a Freight Train Derail?

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Lead Service Attendant
Apr 15, 2003
Amfleet said:
It seems that at least 2-3 times a week one of the freight railroads has a derailment on an Amtrak route. What causes this? Why so often?
Are you talking major derailments? Or both minor and major derailments?

If you want to see Airline, Highway, Pipeline, Boating, And Railroad incidents Click Here, its the NTSB's website, but I think most of us know about the NTSB's website. :)


Honored Member
Aug 22, 2002
Queens, New York
Amfleet said:
Someone has to bring these problems to congress. It's not just Amtrak anymore, the whole national system is falling apart.
Well the simple and sad truth is that Congress doesn't really care about the freight RR's problems. Until and unless there is a massive shut down of the freight RR's, like a workers strike, Congress largely ignores the freight RR's.

You may ask why? The simple truth is that the freight RR's lobby is not powerful enough by comparison to the trucking and airlines lobby’s. Money talks in Washington, sorry to be so skeptical, but you've got to grease the wheels down there if you want something.

The freight RR’s are also partly responsible for being ignored in DC too. If your lobbyists aren’t asking for things that you need, then you have no chance of getting them. At present the freight RR’s still don’t really want too much in the way of government help, since they are worried about what they might have to give up in order to get federal monies. They don’t want the government to be telling them, “Well you have to do this or that, since I gave you money last year”.

So they don’t really lobby for direct federal support, they lobby for things like dropping the fuel tax, decreasing highway support, or higher taxes on trucks anything that will give them an edge over the trucks. Sadly this cycle looks to continue for at least several more years and even then I’m not sure if we will get a meaningful change. :(

PRR 60

AU Supporting Member
Gathering Team Member
Feb 18, 2003
I think the perception that railroad derailments are occurring more frequently now than in the past is more due to the wider knowledge of the incidents than the actual rate. Rail accidents are occurring at the lowest rate in history, with the rate being about 60% lower than 20 years ago. The big change is that today every rail fan with a computer knows about every derailment, big and small, within hours. Many of these are relatively minor and in the pre-internet days would have been a non-event outside the immediate area. But today, if a few cars hit the ground in west Texas, those of us in New Jersey know about it before the wrecking crews are on site.

And, if you want to incite a riot, suggest to the freight railroads that they should lobby for federal aid. The reason that the RR lobby has not obtained direct federal aid for rail maintenance is because they have not asked for it and do not want it. Every dollar of federal aid comes with terms and conditions that the RR’s find unacceptable. The big one is open access. Federal money would almost certainly bring a demand that the railroads, in exchange for accepting general tax funds, open their tracks to every Tom, Dick, and UPS that wants to just run trains. That is the number one fear of the railroads today and they want no part of anything that even remotely could lead to open access. There was a proposal earlier this year in Congress to establish a railroad trust fund similar to the trust funds now used for highways (gas tax) and airports and airways (ticket and fuel taxes). For this fund, a tax would be levied on fuel and freight. The railroads killed it before you could say boo.