1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Railways/Accident Statistics

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Accident Statistics

Statistics of railway accidents may be divided into three classes: casualties (a) to passengers, (b) to servants or employés and (c) to other persons; and again into (1) train accidents, (2) accidents to persons doing work on or about trains and (3) other accidents.

Such statistics are studied mainly with the object of learning the lessons which they may afford as to preventive measures for the future; and from this point of view the most important element is the single item of passengers killed in train accidents (a 1). The number injured is, indeed, a fact of interest, no less than the number killed, but comparisons under this head are unsatisfactory because it is impracticable or unprofitable to go into sufficient detail to determine the relative seriousness of the injuries. The statistics of the killed usually afford all necessary stimulus to improvement. Accidents to passengers other than those caused by collisions or derailments of trains are very largely due to causes which it is fair to class either as unavoidable or as due mainly to the fault or carelessness of the victim himself That this is so is indicated by the fact that, although the railways—always made to suffer severely in pecuniary damages for injuries for which their officers or servants are held responsible by the courts—have for years taken almost every conceivable precaution, the number of accidents, in proportion to the number of persons travelling, diminishes but slowly—so slowly that, in view of the variety of conditions to be considered, it would hardly be safe to conclude that the diminution is due to any definite improvement in the safeguards provided. Collisions, on the other hand, are preventable, and derailments nearly so, and the records of deaths and injuries in this class in successive years are therefore justly taken as an index to the efficiencv with which the railways are managed.

The number of servants killed in train accidents is the next in importance. The safety of passengers is, indeed, the first care of the railway manager; but the employés, exposed to many risks from which the passengers are protected, must be looked after. On the British railways the men who run the trains are safeguarded very efficiently, and the collisions and derailments which are serious enough to do injury to the trainmen or the engine men are really rare. The roadway, tracks and rolling stock are so well maintained that those causes which lead to the worst derailments have been eliminated almost completely, and the record of serious collisions has been reduced nearly to zero by the universal use of the block system and by systematic precaution sat junctions. In America the record is far less satisfactory. The best railways of the United States and Canada have, indeed, been greatly improved, and their main lines approach the high standards of safety which prevail in Great Britain, both as regards maintenance and care of roadway and vehicles (as a preventive of derailments) and the use of the block system (as a preventive of collisions); but when the inquirer looks at America as a whole—the total length of lines in the United States being over 230,000 m., ten times the total of the United Kingdom—he is considering a figure which includes an enormous mileage of railway lying in thinly settled regions where the high standards of safety maintained on the best railways have scarcely been thought of. The duty of a railway with deficient plant or facilities would seem to be to make up for their absence by moderating the speeds of its trains, but public sentiment in America appears so far to have approved, at least tacitly, the combination of imperfect railways and high speeds.

Apart from collisions and derailments, a large proportion of all accidents is found to be due primarily to want of care on the part of the victims. Accidents to workmen in marshalling, shunting, distributing and running trains, engines and cars, may be taken as the most important class, after train accidents, because this work is necessary and important and yet involves considerable hazard. On British railways the duty of the companies to provide all practicable safeguards and to educate and caution the servants may he said to have been faithfully performed, and the accident totals must be taken as being somewhat near the “irreducible minimum”—unless some of the infirmities of the human mind can be cured. In America the number of men killed and injured in handling freight trains has been very large. In the year ending June 30, 1909, exclusive of casualties due to collisions, derailments and other accidents to trains, the number killed was 811 and of injured 28,156 (Accident Bulletin, No. 32, p. 14). The number killed (811) is equal to about three in every thousand trainmen employed. From this and all other causes, the number of trainmen killed in the year ending June 30, 1909, was about 8 in 1000.

The use of automatic couplers for freight cars throughout the United States, introduced in 1893–1900, greatly reduced the number of deaths and injuries in coupling, and the use of air brakes on freight cars, now universal, has reduced the risk to the men by making it less necessary for them to ride on the roofs of high box-cars, while at the same time it has made it possible to run long trains with fewer men; but except in these two features the freight service in America continues to be a dangerous occupation. The high and heavy cars, the high speeds, the severe weather in the northern states in winter, the fluctuating nature of the business, resulting often in the employment of poorly qualified men and in other irregularities, are among the causes of this state of things.

Being struck or run over by a train while standing or walking on the track is the largest single cause of “railway accidents.” Workmen are killed and injured in this way, both while on duty and when going to and from their work; passengers, with or without right, go in front of trains at stations and at highway crossings at grade level; and trespassers are killed and injured in large numbers on railways everywhere, at and near stations, at crossings, and out on the open road, where they have no shadow of right. Of trespassers the number killed per mile of line is about as large in England as in America, the density of population and of traffic in Great Britain apparently counterbalancing the laxity of the laws against trespassing in America. In the thickly settled parts of the United States the number of trespassers killed on the railway tracks, including vagrants who suffer in collisions and derailments while stealing rides, is very large. In New York and four adjacent states, having about as many miles of railway as the United Kingdom, the number in the year ending June 30, 1907, was 1552. In the United Kingdom the number for the corresponding year was 447, or less than one-third.

As was suggested at the outset, railway accident statistics are useful only as showing how to make life and limb safer, though in pursuing this object increased economy should also be secured. Railways have always been held by the legislatures and by the courts strictly accountable for their shortcomings, so far as accountability can be enforced by compelling the payment of damages to victims of accidents; but in spite of this, a want of enterprise and even some apparent neglect of passengers’ and servants’ plain rights, have often been apparent, and the Board of Trade, with its powers of supervision, inspection and investigation, must therefore be classed as one of the most beneficent factors in the promotion of safety on British railways. Its powers have been exercised with the greatest caution, yet with consistent firmness; and the publicity which has been given to the true and detailed causes of scores and scores of railway accidents by the admirable reports of the Board of Trade inspectors has been a powerful lever in improving the railway service. Useful compulsory laws regarding the details of train management are difficult to frame and hard to carry out; but the Board has exercised a persistent persuasiveness and has secured most of its objects. Its investigations justified the law making the block system compulsory, thus removing the worst danger of railway travel. Its constant and impartial expositions of cases of over-work and insufficient training of employés have greatly helped to elevate the character of these employés.

In the United States the governments have done far less. A majority of the states have railway commissions, but the investigation of railway accidents, with comparatively few exceptions, has not been done in such a way as to make the results useful in promoting improved practice. Many of the commissions have done little or nothing of value in this respect. The Federal government, having authority in railway matters only when interstate traffic is affected, gathers statistics and publishes them; but in the airing of causes—the field in which the British Board of Trade has been so useful—nothing so far has been done except to require written reports monthly from the railways. These are useful so far as they go, but they lack the impartiality that would be secured by an inquiry such as is held in England.

Table X.—Casulaties on the Railways of the United Kingdom
1908. 1907.
Passengers: Killed Injured Killed Injured
1. In train accidents 0 283 18 534
2. Other accidents in or around trains, &c 102 2,242 102 2,132
3. Other causes 5 863 5 836
Total of passengers 107 3,388 125 3,502
4. In train accidents 6 164 13 236
5. Other accidents in or around trains, &c 376 4,976 441 5,577
6. Other causes 50 19,041 55 15,701
Total of servants 432 24,181 509 21,514
Other Persons:
7. In train accidents 0 7 5 11
8. At level crossings 51 44 50 30
9. Trespassing on line 291 99 278 115
10. Suicides (including unsuccessful attempts) 188 19 169 18
11. On business at stations 32 580 36 618
12. Miscellaneous 27 167 39 167
Total of “other persons” 589 916 577 959
Grand total 1,128 28,485 1,211 25,975

The casualties enumerated in items 1, 4 and 7 of Table X. aggregate 6 killed and 454 injured; the six deaths were due to collisions, while of the cases of injury 372 occurred by collisions, 47 by derailments, and 35 by other accidents to trains. This undoubtedly is the greatest record for train safety ever known in the world. Item 1 shows no passengers killed in train accidents during the year. This was the case once before, in 1901; and the total of fatal accidents to passengers and servants, taken together, has in several years been very low (1896, eight; 1901, eight; 1902, ten; 1904, thirteen), but never before was it down to six.

Items 2 and 5 in Table X. are made up of the classes of accidents shown in Table XI.

Table XI.—Detail Causes of Certain Accidents
Year 1908
Item 2, Passengers: Killed Injured
1. From falling between trains and platforms—
(a) When entering trains 21 53
(b) When alighting from trains 2 110
2. From falling on to the platform, ballast, &c.:—
(a) When entering trains 5 115
(b) When alighting from trains 10 874
3. From falling off platforms and being struck or run over by trains 8 19
4. While crossing the line at stations—
(a) Where there is either a subway or footbridge 9 6
(b) Where there is neither a subway nor footbridge 9 6
5. By the closing of carriage doors 748
6. From falling out of carriages during the running of trains 19 64
7. By other accidents 19 247
Total of passengers 102 2242
Item 5, Servants:
By accidents occurring during shunting operations, viz.—
1. While coupling or uncoupling vehicles 16 675
2. By coming in contact, while riding on vehicles, with other vehicles, &c., standing on adjacent lines 2 19
3. While passing over, under, or standing on buffers 2 13
4. When getting on or off, or falling off engines, wagons, &c 4 278
5. While braking, spragging, or chocking wheels 15 627
6. While attending to ground-points 1 98
7. While moving vehicles by capstans, turntables, props, levers, &c. 16 498
8. By other accidents not included in the preceding 41 587
9. From falling off trains, engines, &c., in motion 5 43
10. When getting on or off engines, vans, &c., during the running of trains 2 226
11. By coming in contact with over-bridges or erections on the sides of the line 5 53
12. While attending to the machinery, &c., of engines in motion 2 674
13. While working on the permanent-way, sidings, &c 52 100
14. While attending to gates at level-crossings 3 3
15. While walking, crossing or standing on the line on duty:—
(a) At stations 84 245
(b) At other parts of the line 40 45
16. From being caught between vehicles 23 95
17. From falling, or being caught between trains and platforms, walls, &c 10 70
18. While walking, &c., along the line to or from work 34 31
19. Miscellaneous 19 595
Total of servants 376 4976

Table XII. analyses the classes of accident comprised in items 3 and 6 of Table X.

Table XII.—Detail Causes of Certain Accidents
1908. 1907.
Passengers: Killed Injured Killed Injured
a. While ascending or descending steps at stations 3 370 5 339
b. By being struck by barrows, by falling over packages, &c., on station platforms 142 122
1 105 110
d. By other accidents 1 246 265
Total of passengers 5 863 5 836
1. While loading, unloading or sheeting wagons, trucks and horseboxes 8 4,018 5 2,899
2. While moving goods and luggage in stations or sheds 2 1,992 2 975
3. While working at cranes or capstans 3 411 8 304
4. By the falling of wagon-doors, lamps, bales of goods, &c. 1 583 390
5. While attending to engines at rest 4 2,479 4 2,363
6. From falling off, or when getting on or off, engines or vehicles at rest 3 1,504 2 1,495
7. From falling off, or when getting on or off, platforms 1 483 2 404
8. From falling off ladders, scaffolds, &c. 11 449 11 400
9. By stumbling while walking on the line 2 1,068 1 1,049
10. By being trampled on or kicked by horses while engaged in railway work 1 94 71
11. From being struck by articles thrown from passing trains 7 6
12. From the falling of rails, sleepers, &c., when at work on the line 686 1 611
13. Otherwise injured when at work on the line or in sidings 5 2,182 5 1,981
14. Miscellaneous 9 3,085 14 2,753
Total of servants 50 19,041 55 15,701
Table XIII.—Nature of Accidents to Trains, Vehicles and Pemanent-Way
(A) Accidents to trains:- 1908.
1. Collisions between passenger trains or parts of passenger trains 43 48
2. Collisions between passenger trains and goods or mineral trains or light-engines 78 70
3. Collisions between goods trains or parts of goods trains and light-engines 180 216
4. Collisions between trains and vehicles standing foul of the line 7 22
5. Collisions between trains and buffer-stops or vehicles standing against buffers stops:-
(a) From trains running into stations or sidings at too high a speed 20 17
(b) From other causes 15 25
6. Trains coming in contact with projections from other trains or vehicles on parallel lines 30 7
7. Passenger trains or parts of passenger trains leaving the rails 94 106
8. Goods trains or parts of goods trains, light engines, &c., leaving the rails 407 483
9. Trains running through gates at level crossings or into other obstacles 368 364
10. Fires in trains 195 170
11. Miscellaneous 3 4
(B) Accidents to or failure of rolling stock and permanent-way:-
12. Bursting of boilers or tubes, &c., of engines 7 13
13. Failure of machinery, springs, &c., of engines 61 86
14. Failure of tires 125 172
15. wheels 2 8
16. axles 165 160
17. couplings 2,346 2,440
18. ropes used in working inclines
19. tunnels, bridges, viaducts, culverts, &c. 3
20. Broken rails 287 289
21. Flooding of portions of permanent-way 24 40
22. Slips in cuttings or embankments 18 28
23. Fires at stations or involving injury to bridges or viaducts 30 22
24. Miscellaneous 1

Percentages.—On British railways the casualties from train accidents, especially fatal injuries, have been reduced to so small a proportion of the number of passengers travelling, or the number of servants employed, that the figures showing the percentages vary from year to year considerably; but in other classes of accidents, In which a large proportion of the cases may be classed as unpreventable, the percentages do not vary greatly. The following are the more significant ratios in the year 1907, as shown in the Board of Trade returns:—

(a) Passengers killed in train accidents, approximately 1 in 83,000,000
(1908, 0 in 1,500,000,000)
(b) Passengers injured in train accidents, approximately 1 in  3,000,000
(1908, approximately 1 in 6,000,000.)
(c) Servants killed in train accidents:—
Number of servants killed per 10,000,000 train miles 0·329
Engine drivers, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 5,628
Firemen, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 12,857
Passenger guards, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 4,237
Goods guards and brakemen, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 8,438
(d) Servants killed in work about trains, &c. (excluding train accidents), ratio killed to number employed 1 in 790
Goods guards and brakemen, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 409
Shunters, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 337
Engine drivers, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 1,126
Passenger guards, ratio killed to number employed 1 in 1,059

Railway Accidents in America.—The statistics of accidents in America are kept in a form somewhat different from the foregoing. Table XIV. is taken from the Accident Bulletin of the Interstate Commerce Commission (No. 32), the items being numbered to correspond as nearly as practicable with the numbers in the British table (No. X.). The items 7–8 embrace the statistics which most nearly correspond to the items 7–12 in the British table.

Table XIV.—Casualties on the Railways of the United States of America
Year ending June 30.
1909. 1908.
Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
1. In train accidents 131 5,865 165 7,430
2, 3. Other causes 204 6,251 241 5,215
Total of passengers 335 12,116 406 12,645
4. In train accidents 520 4,877 642 6,818
5, 6. Other causes 1,936 46,927 2,716 49,526
Total of servants 2,456 51,804 3,358 56,344
Year ending June 30, 1907.
Trespassing. Not Trespassing. Total.
Other Persons: Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
7. In train accidents 97 171 52 1202 149 1373
8. Struck by trains at highway crossings 237 274 696 1523 933 1797
Do. at stations 421 423 89 259 510 682
Do. at other places 3732 2063 113 200 3845 2263
Other causes 1125 2581 94 1287 1219 3868
Total of “other persons” 5612 5512 1044 4471 6656 9983

The salient feature of Table XIV. is the diminution from 1908 to 1909. This is mainly due to a great falling off in traffic, because of a general business depression; from 1907 to 1909 the reduction in the accident record is still greater. In items 1 and 4 the increase in safety is due in part, no doubt, to the extension of the use of the block system. The accidents to “other persons” cannot readily be compared with items 7–12 in the British record, except as to the totals and a few of the items.

In any comparison between British and American records the first point to be borne in mind is the difference in mileage and traffic. The American railways aggregate approximately ten times the length of the British lines; but in train miles the difference is far less. In the latest years in which comparisons can be made, the passenger journeys in the United Kingdom amounted to 1500 millions (including season-ticket holders, estimated) and the train miles to 428·3 millions, while the corresponding figures in the United States were 873·9 millions and 1171·9 millions. The average length

of the passenger’s journey in the United States is reported to be about 32 m.; in Great Britain it is undoubtedly less, but no record is published. Of the total train mileage in America more than half is freight; in Great Britain much more than half is passenger.
Table XV.—Total Casulaties on Railways of the United States
1908. 1907.
Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
Passengers 383 11,592 610 13,041
Employees 3,470 83,367 4,534 87,644
Other persons 6,460 10,275 6,695 10,331
Total 10,313 105,234 11,839 111,016

Table XV. shows the casualties on American railways in 1907 and 1908 (year ending June 30). These figures differ from those in Table XIV. because of differences in classification. In Table XIV. the item “passengers killed” includes those on some electric railways, which presumably are not covered in the statement here given; also passengers in freight trains, &c. Under “employees” this table includes men in shops, &c., not shown in Table XIV.

In 1907 one passenger in 2,318,051 was killed, and one in 107,004 was injured, in train accidents. The number of employés killed in train accidents was 12·9 in 10 million train miles. Of train men (including engine-drivers and firemen), one out of 125 employed was killed (all causes), and one in eight injured.

The great differences between the records of the United States and the United Kingdom seem to afford justification for the view, which has often been expressed, that in America the spirit of hurry and recklessness manifest in many of the activities of the people prevails even among the men on whom rests the grave responsibility of running trains in safety. Yet the best safety devices are made in America, and means of reducing these death records are well known.

France.—Railway accidents in France are recorded in a shape somewhat different from that found in either Great Britain or America. The principal items for the years 1906 and 1907 are shown in Table XVI. The length of railways in the republic was 39,963 km. (24,832 m.), the number of persons employed on them was rather less than 300,000, the number of passengers carried annually being between 450 and 500 millions. The number of passengers (36) killed in train accidents in 1907 was equal to 0·0759 per million passengers carried and 0·0024 per million kilometres travelled by passengers, or 0·1503 per million kilometres travelled by trains.

Table XVI.—Railway Casualties in France
1907. 1906.
In train accidents Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
Passengers 36 430 14 500
Servants 23 168 21 132
59 593 35 632
Other accidents, due to railway operations
Passengers and others 11 39 14 29
Servants 18 24 8 17
29 63 22 46
Other accidents, victim’s own fault
Passengers and others 290 189 305 155
Servants 281 465 265 421
571 654 570 576
Grand total 659 1315 627 1254

The most significant item in the table, 36 passengers killed in train accidents, is perhaps to be considered as abnormally large, the totals under this head for the preceding six years beginning with 1901 being 7, 35, 3, 18, 4, 14, or an average of 11·57 per year. The French secretary of Public Works, who has furnished these statistics, keeps also similar records of the local or light railways, on which the number of fatal accidents appears to be exceedingly small.

Germany.—The number of persons killed on the railways of the German Empire in the year 1907 was 1249, classified as in Table XVII. This number does not include suicides and attempts at suicide, of which there were 333, all but 24 being successful. In these statistics, the third item, “other persons,” includes post office and customs officials and other persons connected with the railway service, as well as railway officers and servants off duty. The totals of passengers killed and injured in train accidents are not separated from those killed and injured from other causes, but ratios are given showing that for four years no passengers were killed in this class.

Table XVII.—Railway Causualties in the German Empire
(From Statistic der im Betriebe befindlichen Eisenbahnen; E. S. Mittler & Son, Berlin)
1907. 1906.
Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
Passengers 135 653 118 597
Servants 714 1673 703 1513
Other persons 400 365 360 373
1249 2691 1181 2483

See the Quarterly and Annual Reports, issued by the Board of Trade, London, and the Annual Statistical Reports and Quarterly Accident Bulletins, published by the Interstate Commerce Commission, Washington.

 (B. B. A.)