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May 13, 2015

Number of train accidents declining

Train accidents have declined by 42 percent since 2006

Crash Amtrak
SEPTA Train Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

A SEPTA train.

The horrifying derailment of Amtrak locomotive No. 188, which left seven people dead and more than 100 others injured, pushed rail safety into the limelight Wednesday.

Train accidents have declined by 13.4 percent since 2011, according to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. Fatalities and injuries also have fallen in recent years.

The 1,755 train accidents last year — which included 1,241 derailments — resulted in two deaths and 129 injuries. Those figures, which include both passenger and cargo trains, marked a decline from 2013, when 1,822 train accidents resulted in 11 deaths and 325 injuries.

Train accidents are down by 42 percent since 2006, when 2,998 train accidents left six people dead.

"Most derailments are relatively benign, and can be compared to a person walking down the street, tripping, getting back up and continuing on her or his way," University of North Dakota professor George Bibel wrote in his book "Train Wreck: The Forensics of Rail Disasters." "Yet derailments have been responsible for some of the greatest train wrecks ever."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the derailment of an Amtrak train traveling from Washington to New York Tuesday night. The train, which reportedly was traveling at 100 miles per hour, derailed in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.

Police officials say the engineer has declined to provide a statement to Philadelphia Police detectives, leaving the East Detectives Division with an attorney. 

Derailments can be caused by various factors, including poor train handling, incorrectly set track switches, unsecured cars, obstructions or environmental factors, Bibel wrote in his book.

Nearly 45 percent of derailments from January 2000 to February 2015 resulted from track failures, according to, which based its analysis on figures from the Federal Railroad Administration. About 29 percent resulted from human error. also found that people are 17 times more likely to die when traveling the same distance by car than by train. 

The Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia came as the House Appropriations Committee marked up a fiscal 2016 bill that includes funding for Amtrak.

Voting on party lines, the committee slashed funding for Amtrak by $251 million Wednesday, according to Amtrak will receive $1.14 billion.

Congressman Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., unsuccessfully sought to increase Amtrak's funding to $2.45 billion, the amount requested by President Barack Obama.