Rail Accident

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Railroad Passenger Accident Investigations​


Other Rail Accident Investigations​


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​​​Railroad Passenger Accident Investigations

​NTSB may coordinate family assistance operations for certain major rail passenger accidents investigated by the NTSB, which involve interstate or intercity rail passenger operators or high-speed rail transport operators. This includes Amtrak. These accidents exclude commuter, tourist, historic, scenic, freight, or excursion rail operators. For information associated with accidents involving these types of operators, please see Other Rail Accident Investigations​.

TDA may establish family assistance operations near the accident location when NTSB activates the Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act of 2008.

If you are a survivor or the family of those potentially involved in a rail passenger accident, please contact the railroad passenger operator immediately to ensure access to available services. You can also contact us at [email protected] for further assistance or call 202-314-6185.

​​Please review the our Information for Survivors, Families, and Friends Brochure for Major Passenger Rail Accidents​ that describes what to expect during a NTSB rail passenger investigation and additional details related to assistance available when the Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act of 2008 is activated. ​

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​​​​Other Rail Accident Investigations 

​Railroad accident investigations typically refer to investigations involving commuter, tourist, historic, scenic, freight, or excursion rail operators, passenger and freight railroads, and other public transit systems in the United States.

Please review our Information for Survivors, Families, and Friends Brochure for Rail Accidents​ that describes what survivors, family, and friends can expect throughout a railroad accident investigation by the NTSB and additional details related to the information provided below.

​​Assistance for Railroad Accident Investigations

​Although there is no requirement for TDA to respond to railroad accidents, ​TDA specialists work with the NTSB’s Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) who is responsible for leading the safety investigation, and local and state agencies to coordinate assistance and information for survivors, family, and friends, either by telephone or on-scene if deployed​ to the accident location. TDA remains a primary point of contact to survivors, family, and friends during the investigation and provides updates on the release of information associated with it.

Short-term Counseling & Referrals

​Short-term emotional support services and referrals are available at the request of survivors, families, or friends at no cost through our partnership with the American Red Cross. Additional information can be provided about these support services upon request​.

Victim Identification Process

​​Victim recovery, identification, determination of cause and manner of death, and death certification are the responsibility of the medical examiner or coroner in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. TDA can provide contact information for the appropriate local authority upon request.

Personal Effects

​The NTSB may take custody of personal effects like personal electronic devices​ or other items relevant to the investigation. Depending on condition, these items may be returned to the owner or a designated​ family member typically at the conclusion of the investigation. Personal effects not collected by the NTSB may be collected by the medical examiner or coroner, law enforcement or another agency involved in the response. TDA can assist with questions about personal effects retained by the NTSB or provide contact information for other agencies that may have personal effects in their custody if known. ​

Accident Wreckage

​​​The NTSB has the authority to retain control of and manage access to the accident wreckage during the investigation. TDA can assist with questions regarding status of wreckage retained by the NTSB​​.

Media Interactions

​​TDA does not coordinate interviews with media for survivors, family members, or friends; however, media representatives may attempt to make contact after an accident occurs. The NTSB will not release the identities of victims or survivors of accidents, but this information may be released by the transportation operator involved or local authorities where the accident occurred.​

Railroad Accident Investigation Process

​Due to the possible complexity of railroad accidents and the extensive nature of the investigation process, a railroad accident investigation often requires 12 to 24 months to complete. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the IIC along with other NTSB investigators and party members may travel to the accident site to collect information. The NTSB has the authority to designate organizations, corporations, or agencies as parties to the investigation. Only representatives who can provide technical or specialized expertise are permitted to serve as a party member and report directly to the NTSB. The NTSB will not determine the cause of an accident while on scene. 

The following are reports and products that can be issued during the investigation:

  • The preliminary report provides a synopsis of factual information collected during the on-scene phase of the investigation. This report is typically available a few weeks after the accident.
  • The final report provides a summary of relevant factual information, analysis, findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations issued or reiterated as a result of the investigation.
  • ​An accident brief consists of a short accident narrative, probable cause, and if issued, safety recommendations. Briefs are normally limited to factual information but may contain analysis. 

The report or brief replaces the preliminary report and is typically available 12 to 24 months following the accident. 

​You can access NTSB reports by searching the NTSB’s Case Analysis and Reporting Online Search (CAROL).  

An accident docket contains relevant factual information collected during an accident investigation that is used in the development of reports, briefs, and safety recommendations. The docket is available to access at an appropriate time during the investigation, or at its conclusion.

Many investigations result in safety recommendations or safety alerts. The NTSB can issue these at any time during the investigation process.​​

Staying Informed

If you are requesting information related to a railroad accident investigation, please complete an Investigation Update Request Form, or c​ontact us at [email protected] for additional assistance.​

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