HomeRail NewsGetting safer every year (statistically)

Getting safer every year (statistically)

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Every year, the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) publishes its Annual Safety Performance Report.

This reviews the rail industry’s safety performance over the latest financial year. The latest report, covering 2012/13, was released at the end of June.

Once again, overall use of the railways has increased although freight dropped off slightly. Compared to 2011/12 there were 1.5 billion passenger journeys (3% increase), 58.4 billion passenger kilometres (2% increase) but 47.8 million freight train kilometres (2% decrease).

It is pleasing to note that there were no passenger or workforce fatalities in train accidents in 2012/13. This is the sixth year in succession with no such fatalities. At 0.3 per year, the ten-year moving average for these train accidents is at its lowest ever level.

Comparing figures

To look at the statistics in detail, it is necessary to understand how fatalities and injuries are measured. This is done using an index known as Fatalities and Weighted Injuries (FWI). In effect, it takes all the non-fatal injuries and adds them up using a weighting factor to come up with a total number of ‘fatality equivalents’.

So 10 major injuries, or 200 class 1 minor injuries or shock/trauma, or 1000 class 2 minor injuries or shock/trauma, are taken as being ‘statistically equivalent’ to one fatality. Add these up, and that gives the total FWI number for the year.

This FWI figure is used to compare one year with another. The actual fatalities are also listed as it is possible for the FWI to go down even if the actual number of fatalities has gone up, due to a reduction in the number of less- severe accidents (as happened last year).

The numbers

So in 2012/13, four passengers died in separate incidents, all at stations. When non-fatal injuries are also taken into account, the total level of passenger harm was 45.8 FWI which is 7% higher than the 42.7 FWI (five fatalities) recorded for 2011/12.

So although actual fatalities were down by one, the overall score was up – due mainly to an increase in the number of major injuries. When normalised by passenger journeys, the rate of harm shows a 4% increase compared with 2011/12.

There were two workforce fatalities, both infrastructure workers. Including non-fatal injuries, the total level of workforce harm was 22.6 FWI, which is a reduction of 8% compared with 24.5 FWI (one fatality) occurring in 2011/12. The rate of harm normalised by workforce hours fell by 11%, even though there was one more fatality.

The types of train accident most likely to result in harm, such as collisions and derailments, are known as potentially higher-risk train accidents (PHRTAs). Last year there were 35 of them. This is an increase of one on the previous year’s total of 34. In fact, the number of PHRTAs for the past three years has remained lower than levels seen prior to this period.

Included in those PHRTA figures were seven passenger train derailments, four of which were due to landslips affecting the line. There were no major injuries to train occupants resulting from derailment, or any other type of train accident.


As serious train accidents are rare, the industry monitors trends in train accident precursors using the Precursor Indicator Model (PIM). This provides a measure of trends in the underlying risk from PHRTAs.

At March 2013, the overall indicator stood at 90.6, compared with 74.9 at the end of 2011/12. The passenger proportion of the PIM stood at 39.4, compared with 27.4 at the end of the previous year.

While this rise is significant, the increases in the PIM are due mainly to a rise in the number of landslides that affected the running line which occurred following periods of heavy rain during the year.

At 250, the number of SPADs (signals passed at danger) occurring during 2012/13 was a 9% reduction on the 276 occurring during 2011/12.

The accident in 1999 at Ladbroke Grove, in which 31 people died, occurred following a SPAD. Since then, the industry has focussed on reducing the risk from SPADs through initiatives such as the fitment of the TPWS (Train Protection & Warning System) which was completed in 2003. TPWS can automatically stop a train that passes a signal at danger.

At the end of 2012/13, the estimated level of risk from SPADs was 60% of the September 2006 baseline, compared with 32% at the end of 2011/12. Although the increase in SPAD risk was substantial, the level for 2012/13 is the second lowest financial year- end level on record and SPADs remain a low contributor to overall train accident risk.

Level crossings

These are always problematic, being where trains, road vehicles and pedestrians interface most closely. Excluding suicides, four pedestrians and five road vehicle occupants died in accidents at level crossings in 2012/13.

There were seven major injuries, 53 reported minor injuries and 17 cases of shock or trauma. This equated to a total FWI of 9.9, which is higher than the 2011/12 figure but below the average over the past ten years.

There were ten collisions between trains and road vehicles at level crossings during the year, which is one more than last year’s figure of nine. There has been an average of 13 accidents per year since 2003/04. There is evidence that the underlying rate of collisions at level crossings has reduced over this period.

An overall improvement

Including the nine level crossing users, but excluding those due to suicide or suspected suicide, there were 49 fatalities to members of the public last year. 39 were trespassers and the remaining one has been categorised as an assault. Including non-fatal injuries, the total level of public harm was 53.9 FWI, which is lower than the 63.5 FWI recorded for 2011/12.

At 238, the number of suicides was the same as for 2011/12, and remains above average for the last decade as a whole.

So in total, and excluding suicides, there were 55 fatalities, 457 major injuries, 11,297 minor injuries and 1,179 cases of shock/trauma. The total level of harm was 122.3 FWI, down from 130.7 in 2011/12. The main cause of the decrease was a fall in the number of fatalities to members of the public.

Colin Dennis, Director Policy, Research and Risk at RSSB commented: ‘Although 2012/13 recorded a historically low number of passenger fatalities, overall there was an increase in the level of passenger harm due to a rise in major injuries, mostly as a result of slips, trips and falls in stations. This area continues to be an area for industry focus, and a number of co-operative activities and initiatives are in progress.

‘The number of Potentially Higher Risk Train Accidents was again low and although rises were seen in the measures of SPAD risk and train accident risk, both remained below the baseline used for comparison.

‘Taken over the longer-term, the industry continues to meet the safety targets set for it by the Department for Transport and the European Railway Agency.

‘Rail continues to be the safest form of land transport in Britain and the industry’s performance continues to meet the requirement of ensuring that safety is generally maintained and, where reasonably practicable, continuously improved’.


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