On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed and caught fire in Columbus, Ohio, injuring two people nearby. The train carried a hazardous chemical, styrene, which if inhaled, negatively affects the human nervous system, causing a precautionary evacuation of the local area.

Train accidents are largely the result of equipment malfunction, improper maintenance or negligence. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is a part of the Department of Transportation tasked with investigating railroad accidents and incidents. The FRA’s fact sheet on derailment investigations can be found here. The goal for the completion of a report on a derailment, such as the one that recently occurred in Columbus, is 270 days, but the FRA is required to take as long as it takes to get accurate information. Once the investigation is complete, the FRA will issue a formal report on the cause of the derailment.

If necessary, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may join the investigation. In that case, the FRA will be a secondary investigative unit to the NTSB.

For more information, see Doran & Murphy’s discussion of train accidents and derailments. If you have or a loved one has suffered injuries from a railroad accident, please contact us for information about your legal rights and the investigative process.