Rail travel safe in Europe despite string of accidents, experts say

Posted on April 1, 2001

Despite a string of fatal rail accidents, the European Union (EU) said train travel remains one of the safest ways of getting around the continent. The latest statistics from the EU show that there were 43,400 road accident deaths in 1997 compared to 139 rail fatalities. Taking into account that road travelers far outnumber those on the rails, the EU statistics showed traveling by private car was 15 times more dangerous than train journeys. The most recent accident claimed at least eight lives in Belgium, when a rush-hour commuter train collided head on with an empty rail car that apparently jumped red lights and found itself on the wrong track. The crash was Belgium’s worst since 1974. That came one month after a high-speed passenger train hit a car that had fallen on tracks in northern England, killing 10 people. It was England’s worst crash since 31 people died about 19 months ago when two trains collided near London’s Paddington station. National speed restrictions were imposed in England after a rail crash at Hatfield north of London last October in which four died. Belgium recently invested in a high-tech system to automatically stop trains that jump red lights, though the system was not yet operational at the time of the crash. Though the EU reports on the safety of the rails, lobbyists believe European rail authorities should invest more in safety. “Rail is comparatively much safer than many other modes of transport. But even with rail there is a lot more to be done,” said Frazer Gordon of the European Federation for Transport and the Environment. In other recent crashes: eight people died a year ago near Cologne, Germany, when an overnight passenger train derailed and, also last year, 19 died when two trains in Norway collided and burst into flames.

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