Railroad Safety

Xiang Liu, Zhipeng Zhang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Rail safety is a top priority for the rail industry, government, and public. Train accidents can damage infrastructure and rolling stock, disrupt transportation services, harm the environment, and lead to injuries and fatalities. With advanced technologies, operational enhancements, improved training, and other risk mitigation strategies, the rail safety record has continuously improved over the past decades. Despite these improvements, a large number of train accidents still take place around the world. For example, the train accident rate declined by 79% from 1980 to 2017 in the United States. Despite this improvement, around 2000 accidents (including all types of railroads on all types of tracks) still occur annually in the United States. This chapter presents railroad safety statistics, train accident causes, and risk mitigation strategies, focusing primarily on data from the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Derailment and collision, two major types of train accidents, account for over 75% of train-related accidents in the United States. Each year, train derailments result in approximately three fatalities, 157 injuries, and $228 million in damage costs (calculated as averages between 2000 and 2017). During the same study period, on average, collisions resulted in seven fatalities, 109 injuries, and $41 million in damage costs per year. In general, derailments are mostly due to track-related and mechanics-related causes. Collisions largely result from human factor-related causes. Furthermore, this chapter covers current risk mitigation strategies for train accidents caused by track failures, mechanical failures, and human errors. Rail inspection, track geometry measurement, and improved materials and manufacturing are used to reduce track-related train accident risk. Advanced inspection technologies of railway rolling stock are used to prevent train accidents due to mechanical failures. Positive Train Control and engineer education and training are used to reduce human errors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Transportation
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 1-7
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780081026724
ISBN (Print)9780081026717
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Accident causes
  • Collision
  • Derailment
  • Engineer training
  • PTC
  • Rail inspection
  • Railroad
  • Risk analysis
  • Risk mitigation
  • Safety
  • Track geometry measurement


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