Statistical Analysis of Train Derailment Severity for Unit Trains Versus Manifest Trains

Weitian Li, Zheyong Bian, Xiang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using freight trains is a cost-effective and safe method for transporting numerous products over long distances. However, freight train derailments have significant consequences. Derailment severity, measured by the number of cars derailed per derailment, is an important risk factor. Based on prior literature and Federal Railroad Administration data, this research analyzes and estimates derailment severity of freight railroad transportation using a statistical method: the Truncated Geometric (TG) model. The methodology accounts for three train types: manifest train, loaded unit train, and empty unit train. Train length, speed, and gross tonnage per car are the input features, and the output variable is the number of cars derailed in a derailment incident. The TG model quantifies the influence of these factors contributing to derailment severity and estimates train derailment severity with a performance of the mean square error (MSE) of 68.91 and mean absolute error (MAE) of 6.05. When data outliers such as abnormally high or low severity are excluded, the MSE drops to 36.82 and the MAE drops to 4.22. Overall, the results indicate that the train derailment severity estimation performance based on the given factors is satisfactory. With all other factors being equal, a loaded unit train is likely to derail more cars than a manifest train and an empty unit train. When data outliers are excluded, there is no significant difference between manifest trains and empty unit trains as regards derailment severity, and both are less likely to derail than a loaded unit train.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-42
Number of pages13
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


  • freight
  • freight rail transportation
  • rail
  • rail safety


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