The reaction by the US press to recent European train accidents is…interesting.
An actual headline on CBS News says: Despite Spain Crash, California Proceeding With High-Speed Rail System. (In some alternate reality, one can imagine this headline: Despite record automobile fatalities, California Proceeding With Freeways.)
And the Westport News is thankful we don’t have those dangerous European trains:
U.S. rail cars are manufactured to much higher safety standards than European or Asian trains. The Federal Railroad Administration sets standards of survivability based on “crash worthiness” while the foreign systems aim for “crash avoidance.”
Of course that means our trains are heavier and less fuel efficient, especially at high speed. But they’re built with crumple zones, like your car. [Not quite true]
Amtrak’s Acela is hardly the fastest train in the world, but a former FRA member told me he thinks it’s the “world’s safest for crash worthiness.” Before Amtrak ordered the bespoke train sets, they brought over a Swedish tilt-train (the X-2000) and Germany’s ICE trainset to demonstrate the potential of high-speed trains between Boston and Washington.
I had a chance to ride both, but while they garnered great PR for Amtrak, neither of the trains (among the best in the world for the time) met U.S. safety standards, then or now.
Even taking into account recent accidents, there is nothing especially dangerous about European trains. Here is some recent data from Eurostat. Note that no data for 2012 is available yet.
Let’s assume that 2013 will be an historically bad year. In addition to the Spain and Paris crashes, there will be 89 other fatalities (89 being the highest recorded in the Eurostat database) — for a total of 174 fatalities. Even taking that into account, I calculate the overall fatality rate would be around .38 fatalities per billion passenger miles.
How does that compare to the FRA’s “World’s Safest” trains? Well, Amtrak has averaged .4 fatalities per billion passenger miles.