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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 12:09 GMT
Rail 'safer than most transport'
Car (generic)
Trains are nine times safer than cars, according to statistics
Although rail safety suffers from an image problem, statistically passengers are much less likely to die than people using most other forms of transport.

People in cars are nine times more likely to be killed, and people on planes are slightly more at risk, the Rail Safety and Standards Board said.

Its latest annual safety report in June found motorcyclists are most likely to be killed.

Only buses, coaches and boats are safer, according to the report in June.

In 2002-3, the year which included the Potters Bar rail disaster, there were 50 deaths on the railways.

The Department for Transport estimates there are 3,500 deaths on UK roads each year.

Rail is much safer than car travel
Rail Safety and Standards Board

"Public perceptions of the relative safety of different transport modes do not always reflect the empirical evidence," said the board's report.

"While rail is not the safest form of land travel, there is very little difference now between air, rail, bus/coach or water. Rail, however, is much safer than car travel."

The report notes that death rates "fluctuate considerably" from year to year, as train crashes were rare but could involve a lot of casualties.

But it said the general tend appeared to show rail dangers had reduced, as accidents affecting passengers "are at their lowest number and rate per million train miles".

The crash in Berkshire. Picture by Tim Dellor.
Train crashes involving passenger deaths are relatively rare
The report found there were fewer broken rails than at any time since records began and both accidents affecting passengers and crashes caused by something left on the tracks both fell significantly.

Trains running past red signals rose by 5% to 381 - but the completion of the train protection and warning system saw many of them automatically halted.

The system had prevented two train crashes last year, head of safety strategy and risk, Bill Robinson, told BBC News.

The crash near Ufton Nervet on Saturday has prompted questions about why the train was so badly damaged by the impact of the crash.

But others have suggested it was surprising only seven people, of the 300 who were on the train, were killed in the collision.

Although there have been other recent deaths at level crossings, it is usually people on the tracks who are killed.

Last year 18 people, including three track workers, were killed at level crossings.

'Very few' crashes

But the crash in Berkshire was the first to kill passengers since 1986, when nine people died on a train which hit a van on the tracks in Lockington, Yorkshire.

The Association of Train Operating Companies rejected the Rail, Maritime and Transport union's call to remove all level crossings on high-speed lines, saying there were hundreds of crossings but "very few incidents".

"Level crossings are is use in many countries and some nations such as Japan and Germany have even more than we do. Certainly, our safety record is better than that of some other countries," he added.

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