HOLMBERG: Trains the safest way to travel?

Posted at 12:19 AM, Jul 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-30 00:46:29-04

There have been some terrible train wrecks recently:  79 killed in Spain last week;  44 injured in a head-on collision on Monday in Switzerland.

These crashes can be incredibly deadly and destructive.

And rare.

In Virginia, the big ones can almost be counted on one hand.

In 1992, sabotage caused a derailment in Newport News that injured 72 people.

A freight train derailment high above Shockoe Bottom 24 years ago threw four boxcars down onto Main Street, smashing a car.

In December of 1978 in Nelson County, a speeding Southern Railways passenger train derailed, injuring 60 and killing six, including Governor Jimmy Carter’s chef.

And, of course, the infamous and sensational  1903 wreck of Old 97 in Danville that killed 11 people at the Stillhouse Trestle.

But you can’t find a safer way to travel any distance than on a train, no matter how you measure it.

And there are certainly different ways of looking at it.

Let’s look at deaths per 100 million miles traveled, a common safety measurement.

Cars we see . 96 - almost one person dying in distance around the world. A fraction of that - .06 – die in airlines even less - .04 - in trains.

But that’s a deceptive way of measuring safety. For example, we know space flight is super risky, but divide the deaths by the numbers of miles, and it looks pretty safe.

So let’s look at the number of deaths per journey. We 55 deaths per hundred million journeys for airliners, 4.5 for cars and 2.7 for trains - once again the safest.

The most dangerous mode of commonly used travel , by far: motorcycles, scooter and mopeds.

The safest: elevators. Every day there are about a billion elevator journeys, nearly all of them safe.

But you can’t travel across the country  in an elevator.

So if you’ve got to go any distance, riding the rails is still the way to go.