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LostInParadise's avatar

Has there been a sudden increase in railroad accidents?

Asked by LostInParadise (18197 points ) December 31st, 2013

In the last year or so there have been a number of news stories about railroad accidents. It seems to me that before then you rarely heard about them. Have you noticed the same thing? If so, is it just a statistical quirk, or might there be some general underlying cause?

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15 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I hadn’t noticed. I know there was the recent one in the northeast, what other one has there been recently? In terms of my perception, I have heard of train accidents few and far between in my lifetime, but they do happen. I hear more about people getting hit by a train (which I don’t count as a train accident) than about the train going off the tracks. Did you try to google to see if the stats are actually higher now?

Edit: from this link it does seem since 2000 there have been more train accidents around the world than previous to that. I wonder if there are more train lines maybe? I didn’t look at the US specifically, so I don’t know if that has steadily increased.

hearkat's avatar

I think it is partly due to the fact that we hear more about them through the numerous media outlets. I never read the newspaper regularly, and I rarely watch TV; but I follow the Facebook feeds for the local print and televised news media, so I am more up-to-date on news events. I did wonder about the large amount of suicides-by-train this year, and in our area, they have increased.

zenvelo's avatar

No, just a few that have been quite dramatic because of the dangerous cargo on board. I can think of three big train accidents this year: The tar sands fire one in Canada, the speeding Metroliner outside of NY last month, and the tanker derailment in North Dakota yesterday.

But according to the NTSB the rates this year are down from last year, which was lower than 2011. Train accidents happen all the time.

LostInParadise's avatar

Those are the accidents that I was thinking of. It is reassuring to see that the numbers have been going down. I love taking the train, and now that I am officially a senior citizen, I get to take the train into Philadelphia for a dollar each way.

filmfann's avatar

It seems the increase is due to 1) terrorism or 2) idiots who park their cars on the tracks, trying to get attention from a girl they like, which should be considered terrorism in my book.

bolwerk's avatar

Major railroad and plane accidents are the things spectacular and strange enough to make the news. Fatal car accidents are daily occurrences and get buried.

There is some truth that maintenance of railroads is falling behind, just like it is for highways, though. Signal systems and safety standards employed in the USA are often still the same used in the first half of the 20th century. The MNRR disaster in NYC a month ago could have been avoided with modern signal and safety systems, and the institutional response is usually slower, crappier service rather than investing in modern signaling and safety measures.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Railroad is probably the safest way to travel. It’s just a perception thing, because rail accidents make big news while car accidents do not. There were 33,561 deaths due to car accidents in 2012 in the US. That’s like having a 9/11 every month

glacial's avatar

Your question reminded me of this opinion piece by a former rail engineer that was written just after the Lac-M├ęgantic disaster.

I don’t care whether there are fewer accidents now. I care that the materials being carried by these trains are increasingly hazardous. Safety standards should be increased and maintained, not cut back and overlooked. In particular, tarsands oil is much, much more dangerous than other crude oil. We don’t actually have a clue how to clean it up if it’s spilled. To me, this says that we’ve got to work towards decreasing the likelihood of a spill if we’re going to transport it all over the continent – which it looks like we are, regardless of how stupid that is.

hearkat's avatar

@glacial – Here in NJ, a a train derailed and discharged toxic chemicals into the air last year. It was a huge mess, especially because they knew the bridge was in bad shape.

bolwerk's avatar

New Jersey is the “garden state” because “belching hellpit of toxic waste” was just too long to fit on the license plates.

hearkat's avatar

@bolwerk – That is not true of the entire state, only the part around Newark Liberty Airport and the Port of Elizabeth – one of the busiest transit areas for people and goods of the entire country – if not THE busiest. From Wikipedia: “the Port of New York and New Jersey [is] the busiest on the East Coast. The Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal was the world’s first container port and is one of the world’s largest container ports. ”

There are still many farms around, and I purchase all of my meats and most of my produce from local farmers. From Wikipedia: “New Jersey’s agricultural outputs are nursery stock, horses, vegetables, fruits and nuts, seafood, and dairy products. New Jersey ranks second among [the 50] states in blueberry production, third in cranberries and spinach, and fourth in bell peppers, peaches, and head lettuce. New Jersey harvests the fourth-largest number of acres planted with asparagus.”

flutherother's avatar

Any event is more likely to make the news if a similar event has previously been reported. There was a spate of stories here about prisoners escaping from custody. It became a story in itself and questions were asked in Parliament although statistically no more prisoners were escaping than usual.

WestRiverrat's avatar

There are more trains hauling oil, so there are going to be more oil trains involved in accidents.

kritiper's avatar

No. Just more in the news to take note of.

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