Railway deaths

Seven people died in the Berkshire train crash at the weekend which made headline news. Nine people die every day on average because of car accidents. From the Tranport 2000 Facts and figures section:

In 2001 the total number of casualties in road crashes in Britain was 313,309. The number of people killed was 3450, 37,110 were seriously injured and 272,749 were slightly injured. The total killed or seriously injured was 40,560. The KSI figure includes 3144 child pedestrians and 674 child cyclists. The total number of people killed in the Paddington rail crash was 31. The average number of children abducted and killed by strangers is seven a year.

12 thoughts on “Railway deaths

  1. It’s not *quite* as black-and-white as they paint it (although I will concede that it’s a pretty dark grey and a pretty light grey). A lot fewer passengers go on trains. If you scale up the number of rail accidents proportionately, in essence assumingthat everyone in a car travels on a train as well, then the projected KSI figures for trains are, according to my calculations[1], something like 6200 people. Yes, this is nothing like as high as 40,560, but it’s not, as Transport2000 try and imply, like comparing 40560 with 7. Moreover, that assumes that the number of accidents would scale linearly with the number of increased passengers, ignoring whether having fourteen times as many trains on the tracks would cause more accidents than a simple linear measure would imply.

    [1] 40560 KSI in cars. 678 billion passenger/kilometres in cars in 2003 (http://www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_transstats/documents/page/dft_transstats_032078.pdf).
    419 KSI on trains. 49 billion p/km in trains in 2003 (ibid),
    Putting everyone in a car in a train instead would therefore, by our linear measure, cause ((678/49)*419)=5797 more accidents, for a total ot 5797+419=6216.

  2. All fair enough. I believe your maths because a) I trust you and b) I only have a GCSE in the subject while you presumably have something more impressive and c) it’s Monday. If I disagreed with Transport 2000’s aims I would probably have fun pointing out their selectiveness (not to mention the use of frames on their website which makes it impossible to link to the evidence). Admittedly, you couldn’t fit that many trains on the track, but this ignores the fact that the road network is always expanding (it’s not news to build a road) and there has been one mainline built in the last 100 years in the UK (the Channel Tunnel Rail Link) while Dr Beeching closed a third of the Victorian network. There would have to be more railways: I think they should reverse the old proposal to tear up the railways and build roads in their stead. This would be safer and address the problem that you can only fit so many more roads into the country.

  3. And you have to commit suicide on a train track, at least get out of the car and lie on the track in the old fashioned manner. Rather than killing and injuring loads of people and wrecking several millions of pounds worth of equipment you would probably only traumatise the driver for life, make the person who discovers you retch, and incense several thousand commuters.

  4. That’s a chicken-and-egg thing, though, the expansion of the road network at the expense of rail. You need more roads because the current ones are clogged up because everyone goes everywhere in cars because public transport is busy and expensive and extremely inconvenient and smelly and infrequent because it doesn’t get much funding because it doesn’t get enough farepayers because nobody uses it because everyone goes everywhere in cars…
    Yes, there is an argument that if we fund public transport and make car driving more difficult or expensive or inconvenient then it will make public transport better. However, in order for this to be a good argument, you have to have a pretty good case that the world will *actually* be a better place if we have a better public transport system and everyone uses that rather than cars, and that is an *assertion* at this point. There’s some evidence in its favour, but there’s also evidence against, and people fudging it by saying “look! cars kill loads of people! trains are completely safe!” are not helping…

  5. A useful idea might be to take it to extremes. London is a place where you cannot build any new roads because there is no space. Would it be more conceivable to put everyone on public transport or to put everyone in cars? The former, I fear. London cope could cope without cars and in most case does, except for rich people, deliveries, and the occasional Top Gear presenter who doesn’t realise how unnecessary, almost ostentatious, cars are in London. London could in no way cope without public transport. As roads fill up and space to build more roads disappears, there has to be a better way to use the space there is. Go down Oxford Street (the worst place in the world, but lots of people) where there are only buses and taxis, then imagine all those people decamped into cars. This doesn’t argue the safety angle much, but if you add on the facts that public transport should be driven by trained people and by fewer people, that trains run on rails, then we are getting somewhere. The assertion that we need more roads surely needs to be proved too, and the evidence of experience seems to be that we’ll only need more and more roads. Where does this stop? Although there technically IS space, I don’t think there is any more without going too far in damaging the countryside (very subjective I know). In which case we are in, or near, the London situation.

  6. I concur with pretty much everything you’ve said. The public transport lobby, though, leaves out a pretty important aspect of car driving, at least from my point of view: public transport is not nice to travel on at all. If we leave aside the Top Gear approach that driving should be done just because it’s fun, and also leave aside the moral argument that you feel a nice warm glow because you’re on a bus rather than in a car, driving is a lot, lot more pleasant than being on the average bus or a crammed commuter train. Yes, you get stuck in traffic jams, but you do so in a comfortable seat with music of your choice, no-one’s elbow jammed into your side, and the option to have a cigarette if you like. Travelling on a train, or worse a tube train, in the height of the rush hour is exceedingly unpleasant, and this aspect seems to be viewed as just the price you gotta pay in order to get cars off the road. Much the same way as standing in the rain waiting for twenty minutes for a bus is also a price you just gotta pay. Now, perhaps better funded and more frequent public transport will solve that, but I doubt it; seat space is far too restricted, you’re not in a pleasant environment (music is out, unless you’ve got a walkman and it’s on quietly), buses don’t stop at your house, or even particularly _near_ your house. London’s transport system is pretty reasonable, but it’s considerably less good outside the capital (would you believe it? London gets all the good stuff! amazing!), and if you don’t want to be crammed onto a tube train then your only choice is the rather expensive taxicab or the equally crammed and less-well-maintained bus. Some places do better at this — tram systems, for example, are great, and why they almost all got shut down years ago is a total mystery to me — but good public transport is the exception rather than the rule. Yes, this is a Mexican standoff, but I really do not think that repeatedly penalising car owners until we end up in a no-car-and-no-good-public-transport-either limbo is the right solution, even if the avowed intention is to fix the transport system. Congestion charges have been in place for a while now; higher car taxes have been in place for a while now; I don’t see public transport getting any better.

  7. Remember that you think travelling by car is more comfortable because you’re a driver. Passengers don’t generally get to choose air conditioning (I can on a (modern) train), music, and rear-seated passengers are often greeted with the view of the seat in front for hours at a time. Try going to the loo in a car, or, as a driver, going to sleep which I do twice a day on the way to and from work after reading my book for a bit. As a passenger, I don’t like being in a car, as much for the smell and car-sickness as the inability to move round. I’m glad to have taken the little one by train as at least he can run up and down for 3 hours if he wants.

  8. Horses for courses…

    I used to commute by train or car to Leeds everyday (from Cumbria) – the train was far more comfortable, but the car was more convenient.

    If I lived in London (or another reasonable sized city) I would use public transport, cycle, or walk, but…

    Living in rural Cumbria, public transport is a joke to me – I couldn’t go *anywhere* without a car. As it is I have to drive 45 minutes to work – I know some people who sit in a car (notice the distinction) for 45 minutes to travel a distance they could walk/cycle in less…

    I’m all for less traffic on the roads, and making better use of public transport etc. but some don’t realise that a car can be a necessity.

  9. Passengers in a car get to choose air-conditioning in the same way that they do in a train, no? IN the sense that there’s no problem turning on a blower which points just at them. Every car in the world supports that. If you’re a car passenger and you want different music then you’ve got the same recourse as a train, too: bring a walkman. I completely concede that you can neither pee nor sleep nor walk about in a car, and it’s a limitation on big journeys, but then who goes on big journeys on a regular basis? Apart from people who work in London but live miles outside it, obviously. 🙂
    Sitting in the back is also pretty grim, which is why I don’t do it. On the other hand, we’re talking about driving here, rather than passengering, no? One of the oft-suggested solutions to road congestion is to make people share cars more; this would introduce the passenger problems you’re talking about, but it’d also drop the road congestion enormously, I’d have thought.

  10. I fear this will come up in Wiltshire- the petrolheads versus the pansy-assed city dwelling liberals (we will win through our superior ethics) (Insert lisping Essex joke here)

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