NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Train Derailments on the Decline Despite Recent Spate of Accidents

August 18, 2015

The derailments of both freight and passenger trains in Montana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and other states in the past year give the impression that train derailments are on the rise.  However, overall derailments have gone down nationally and rail transportation is generally a safer option compared to other forms of transportation. Developments in signal and track improvements contribute to the safety of rail transportation. States like California, Ohio and Louisiana that have invested in their rail infrastructure have enjoyed nearly a 10% decrease in the number of derailments since 2002. 

  • In 2014, the total of freight derailments decreased to 1,202, compared to 2,350 in 2004. 
  • Passenger train derailments have decreased from 113 in to 2001 to 58 in 2014.
  • Freight trains are covering 17% more miles since 2009.
  • Since 1997 passenger train miles has grown by 44%.

Investment in public transportation and infrastructure improvements will continue to prove beneficial as railroads age and dense urban areas see a rise in traffic. Private freight rail firms continue to demonstrate how capital improvements can lower derailments but policy makers should still be vigilant to improve this area of transportation safety.  Forming innovative partnerships, and the developing and implementation of new technologies will lead to even better safety statistics as well as keep train derailments off of front page news.

Source:  Joseph Kane and Adie Tomer, "Train derailments on the decline despite recent spate of accidents," Brookings Institute, August 10, 2015.

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