Deadly Year for European Rail Still Safer Than the American Average

Does the recent train derailment in Spain, which killed 79 people, justify America’s onerous approach to regulating rail safety?

Annual fatalities on European passenger trains. Image: ##http://systemicfailure.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/quick-statistical-analysis-of-recent-european-rail-accidents/##Systemic Failure via Eurostat##
Millions of passenger kilometers traveled annually on European trains. Image: ##http://systemicfailure.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/quick-statistical-analysis-of-recent-european-rail-accidents/## Systemic Failure via Eurostat##
Millions of passenger kilometers traveled annually on European trains. Image: ##http://systemicfailure.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/quick-statistical-analysis-of-recent-european-rail-accidents/##Systemic Failure via Eurostat##

Federal Railroad Administration safety rules are designed to maximize “crashworthiness,” making U.S. passenger trains heavier and more expensive than their counterparts in Europe, where the safety approach is based on crash avoidance.

So what do we have to show for it? Not only is our passenger rail system less competitive, it’s also less safe, according to these calculations from Network blog Systemic Failure:

Even taking into account recent accidents, there is nothing especially dangerous about European trains.

Let’s assume that 2013 will be an historically bad year. In addition to the Spain and Paris crashes, there will be 89 other fatalities (89 being the highest recorded in the Eurostat database) — for a total of 174 fatalities. Even taking that into account, I calculate the overall fatality rate would be around .38 fatalities per billion passenger miles.

How does that compare to the FRA’s “World’s Safest” trains? Well, Amtrak has averaged .4 fatalities per billion passenger miles.

Also, just a reminder: Amtrak is still much safer than car travel. In the U.S. there are about 1.1 traffic deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled [PDF] — making driving more than 20 times more deadly than rail.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment explains that Wisconsin DOT plans to destroy 11 acres of county land, which is currently forestland and butterfly sanctuaries, to crush gravel for its controversial $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange project. Carfree USA reports that Rome has moved to ban cars on some roads near the Coliseum. And Streets.mn says something’s off with Minneapolis’s newest transit plans.

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