Rail Related Injuries, 1975-2016

Although huge improvements have been made to ensure rail safety, there is still work to do. The graph below shows that while overall safety has improved near an order of magnitude. Nonfatal injuries decreased from about 60,000 incidents to about 9,000 by 2003, and has declined further since. Preventing the loss of life has not been as successful. Fatal injuries deceased from about 1,500 to about 700 by the 2000s, but no significant progress has been made in over a decade. Fatalities now account for 7 to 10 percent of incidents.

Safer Working Conditions

The graph to the right shows the distribution of people affected. Employees on duty are becoming a smaller makeup of victims. Incidents on the job dropped from just a little under 90% in the late '70s down to around 50% since the late 2000s.

Age of Risk

Injuries affect workers of all ages, but especially those between 24 and 34. A steep decline happens after 60 as employees start to retire.
In between, there is a gradual decline in incidents. Reinforcing safety for workers early in their career might be worth considering.

Preventing loss of life

Although huge improvements have been made to ensure rail safety, there is still a lot of work to do. The graph below shows that, while overall safety has improved near an order of magnitude, preventing the loss of life has not been as successful. Nonfatal injuries went from over 60,000 incidents to around 9,000 by 2003 and has declined further since. Fatal injuries, on the other hand, only went from around 1,500 to around 700 by the 2000s. Fatalities now account for 7-10% of incidents.

Improving Public Safety

There is an opportunity to focus efforts on public safety. While tremendous success has been achieved in employee safety, public safety has not seen an impactful improvement over the years. With the exception of a spike of incidents in 2002, the number of incidents for passengers, and the general public has been flat in the last four decades.

What's next

Learn more about rail incidents in the U.S. including accidents by type of track and rail equipment accidents on the U.S. Department of Transportation open data portal.