How often do trains derail? More than you think
The Amtrak train crashed into a dump truck at a public crossing about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City as it traveled from Los Angeles to Chicago, officials said.
Images from the scene showed multiple passengers sitting atop overturned train cars as emergency crews assessed the damage and treated the injured.
While passenger trains on average tend to be one of the safest modes of transportation in the United States, derailments do happen and are actually more common than you might think.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics is a branch of the United States Department of Transportation that analyzes and compiles information about the nation’s transportation systems.
Since 1975, the agency has been tracking train derailments as well as injuries and fatalities that have happened during train crashes.
While fatalities from train derailments are rare, derailments themselves are actually quite common.
From 1990, the first year the BTS began tracking derailments and injuries on a yearly basis, to 2021, there have been 54,539 accidents in which a train derailed. That’s an average of 1,704 derailments per year.
Those numbers might seem pretty staggering, but derailments vary in severity and only a portion result in injuries. During that same time frame, 5,547 people were injured when a train derailed, or about 174 per year. Even then, much of that data is skewed due to a 2002 derailment in North Dakota in which a hazardous materials spill injured more than 1,400 people, BTS said.
Additionally, both passenger and freight trains are included in the data set, so the risk of being injured in a train derailment as a passenger is even less likely than the numbers might suggest.
Deaths from train derailments are even rarer. From 1990 to 2021, 131 people died in train derailments. That comes to about four deaths per year.
The BTS data isn’t only limited to derailments, though. Collisions and other accidents are also included. Collisions tend to be slightly deadlier, but the data doesn’t include deaths at railway crossings, which account for the vast majority of deaths associated with trains.
Still, despite the semi-regularity of derailments, passenger trains are still a vastly safer mode of transportation compared to vehicles. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates 42,915 died in vehicle accidents in 2021 alone, and those numbers appear to only be going up with each passing year.
Your odds of dying in a train derailment are lower than your odds of dying in a car crash, boating accident or onboard a commercial airline, numbers from BTS suggests.
So while the tragic derailment in Missouri might have you reevaluating your thoughts on train travel, you shouldn’t be too worried. It still remains one of the safest forms of transportation in the country, and the risks of being injured or killed in a train accident are miniscule in the grand scheme of things.