Riding the railroad is far safer than traveling in a car or truck. As many know, driving on highways with high truck density can be a harrowing ride. While large trucks accounted for 3 percent of all registered vehicles and 7 percent of total vehicle miles traveled in 2003, large trucks accounted for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes, in 2004.
More telling--of all traffic fatalities in 2004, about 12 percent resulted from a collision involving a large truck. [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis] Figure 1 shows that heavy trucking has the highest rate of causing accidents fatal to others, not in a truck.
The Steel Interstate offers even better safety news for rail because in order to maintain reliable speeds for the kinds of services that the Steel Interstate will offer, all or most grade crossings will be closed and replaced with road under or overpasses. This will further improve safety by removing conflict potential between trains and vehicles.
Traveling in a car is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a daily basis. “If a person could be found who travels exclusively by rail, an average automobilist has a lifetime risk [of accidental death] an astounding 6,800 times greater.” [Kopl Halperin,“A Comparative Analysis of Six Methods for Calculating Travel Fatality Risk,”Risk: Health, Safety, & Environment 4 (1993)] Per passenger mile, train injury costs comprise only one-fifth those of cars. [Miller, Ted R., Douglass, John B., and Pindus, Nancy M., Railroad injury: Causes, costs, and comparisons with other transport modes, Journal of Safety Research, Winter, 1994, p. 183] While passenger rail travel is already safe, it’s also becoming even safer. Current Administrator Joseph Szabo, of the Federal Railroad Administration, said recently, “I am happy to report railroads remain one of the safest modes of transportation. In the past ten years, train accidents are down 39%. Fatalities are down 60%.” [Szabo, Joseph, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, presentation before the 3rd Annual Transportation & Infrastructure Convention, Washington, DC, March 12, 2010)]
Traveling in the United Kingdom, which has a much more extensive passenger rail system than that of the United States, is 25 times safer on intercity railroads than driving by car.
Rail freight transportation incurs 1/8 of the fatalities and 1/16th of the injuries that trucks experience per ton-mile. The employee injury rate for rail is about half that of trucks. [“The Economic Impact of America’s Freight Railroads,” Association of American Railroads, Policy & Economic Dept., February, 2009, pgs. 1-3. In Spraggins, H. Barry, The case for rail transportation of hazardous materials, Journal of Management and Marketing Research]
Developments in computerized signaling and other new technologies have allowed railroads to reduce train accident rates 71 percent from 1980 to 2007. The rate of employee casualties has decreased 80 percent since 1980. The grade crossing collision rate has dropped every year since 1978, cumulatively 77 percent from 1980 to 2007. [“Safety,” Association of American Railroads, 2008.In Spraggins, H. Barry, The case for rail transportation of hazardous materials, Journal of Management and Marketing Research]
[Based on BTS, National Transportation Statistics, 2003, Tables 1-32, 2-1 and 2-4; APTA, Safety Summary By Mode, 2003. Pedestrian and cycling mileage is based on FHWA, National Bicycling and Walking Study Ten Year Status Report, 2004, assuming 0.7 mile average walking trip and 2.3 mile average cycling trip length. Light truck “Others" deaths are calculated based on a portion of pedestrian deaths, plus 1,282 additional automobile passenger deaths over what would occur if car/truck collisions had the same car occupant fatality rate as car/car collisions, based on analysis by Gayer, 2001. This is conservative because it does not account for the higher per mile collision involvement rates of light trucks compared with passenger cars.]
Taking through trucks off the highway will alleviate congestion in key highway corridors, reducing collision and accident potential between trucks and cars, and making driving safer and more pleasant. Conversely, replacing existing medians with concrete barriers in order to add the lanes necessary for highway solutions to our transportation crisis would yield roads less tolerant of driver error.Many schemes have been debated in the highway engineering world on ways to configure highways for car/truck separation as a means of safety enhancement. The Steel Interstate System takes through trucks away, providing real separation! Further, with freight traveling on an upgraded railroad, trucks would not divert to secondary roads to evade tolls designed to pay for new lanes.
Railroads and trucks carry roughly equal hazmat ton-mileage, but trucks have 16 times more hazmat releases than railroads. Statistically, railroads are the safer form of transportation for hazardous materials. [“Hazmat Transportation by Rail: An Unfair Liability”, Association of American Railroads, Policy & Economics Dept., January, 2009, pgs. 1-2. In Spraggins, H. Barry, The case for rail transportation of hazardous materials, Journal of Management and Marketing Research]
Railroads safely deliver 99.998 percent of all rail cars containing hazardous materials. The rail hazmat incident rate declined 88 percent between 1980 and 2007, and 39 percent since 1990.
Finally, construction of increased passenger and freight capacity on rail lines can be far better managed for safety. Highway construction to add capacity or repair surfaces damaged by heavy vehicles is far more hazardous to drivers, passengers, and construction workers and takes longer to complete.