Railroad safety by the numbers: How often do trains crash? Are planes or cars safer?

·2 min read
Jill Toyoshiba/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

An Amtrak train crashed and derailed in Mendon, Missouri on Monday after it struck a dump truck at a crossing. Four people were killed in the crash, including three people on the train and one person in the dump truck.

Missouri hospitals counted at least 150 patients as of early Tuesday afternoon.

With the crash in mind, some are wondering just how safe trains are for traveling. Here’s what we found.

HOW SAFE ARE TRAINS?

Trains are statistically much safer than driving.

In 2020, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics recorded 40,867 total deaths from travel, including in planes, in cars on highways and on trains.

Here’s how that breaks down by mode of transportation:

  • Air: 349 deaths

  • Railroad: 746 deaths

  • Highway: 38,824 deaths

So in 2020, there were more than 50 times more deaths on highways than on train tracks, and more than twice as many deaths on trains than on planes.

Of those 746 railroad deaths across the country in 2020, the bulk were because of trespassers.

How many people die from train crashes?

Fewer people are dying from train crashes now compared to decades ago.

In 1981, there were 9,461 train crashes in the U.S., and 728 fatalities from those collisions.

Forty years later in 2021, there were 2,148 train crashes and 236 deaths.

In Missouri, there have been 37 total fatalities and 89 total injuries from train crossing collisions from 2016 through 2020.

Collisions at train crossings and interference by trespassers make up 95% of rail-related fatalities, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

These crossing collisions like Monday’s crash dropped 39% from 2000 to 2020, according to AAR.

WHEN WAS AMTRAK’S DEADLIEST CRASH?

It happened 29 years ago in Mobile, Alabama. The Sunset Limited plunged off a bridge and caught fire, killing 47 people on board and injuring 103. It’s now known as the Big Bayou Canot rail incident.

The worst wreck as far as overall injuries was the 1990 collision of an Amtrak train with a Boston commuter train that left 453 injured. Nobody died during this crash.

For live updates on the Amtrak crash in Mendon, Missouri, look here.