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Fatal train accidents on Britain's mainline railways

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This paper investigates trends in the frequencies and numbers of fatalities in fatal train collisions, derailments and buffer overruns on the national railway system of Great Britain. The main part of the paper is based on the 31-year period 1967–1997. After the paper had been completed, but before it was due to be published, the most serious train accident for more than a decade occurred on October 5th, 1999, at Ladbroke Grove in London, in which 30 people lost their lives. That accident was by far the most severe ever to have occurred in Great Britain with modern rolling-stock; it leads to an upward revision in the estimates of current and future fatalities in train accidents. To provide a context for the statistical interpretation of the Ladbroke Grove accident, and to avoid the temptation of being wise after the event, the main part of the paper (Sections 1–5) is presented exactly as it was finalized before the accident; a postscript (Section 6) is then added to update the conclusions in the light of the accident. Railway safety has improved over the long term: even after including the Ladbroke Grove accident in the data, the paper estimates that the current mean frequency of fatal train accidents from all causes is just over 1 per year, and the mean number of fatalities in such accidents is just under 4 per year. It is an indication of the exceptional severity of the Ladbroke Grove accident that the number of people who lost their lives was so much larger than this.

Keywords: Accidents; Fatalities; Railways; Safety; Train protection

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: University College London and Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, UK

Publication date: 2000-02-01

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