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How safe is it to travel by train?

Living in New York offers many advantages, and one of them is that the state has one of the nation’s most extensive public transit systems. In other words, rather than have to finance a car, parking and related expenses, you can, at least in the city, get around easily enough without having a vehicle of your own.

You may wonder, though, what your safest option may be in terms of making your way around the city, state and nation, and the answer may surprise you.

Comparing the safety of common transportation options

Train crashes tend to receive considerable media attention. Statistics show that your chance of getting into a wreck is higher when you travel by train than it would be if you traveled by air. To put it in perspective, in 2012, commercial airplane travel claimed 447 lives. The following year, railroad crashes caused 707 passenger deaths, while another 813 people lost their lives in train crashes on U.S. soil in 2014.

Just what is it about the U.S.'s railroad system that makes it particularly hazardous for users?

Safety concerns

Part of the problem, safety advocates suggest, is that the American rail system is not as safe as those in operation in other areas of the developed world. According to the results of one recent study, traveling by train in the United States is so much more dangerous than it is in other developed countries that it was difficult to fit all the study results on the same chart.

If you were to board a train in, say, France, for example, you would need to travel about 4.9 million miles before, statistically speaking, you would suffer an injury. In Germany, meanwhile, you would need to cover 4.1 million miles before suffering an injury. In the United States, you would only need to cover about 84,300 before experiencing a train-related injury. Improperly or poorly maintained railroads can also present safety hazards, and so, too, can trains carrying hazardous substances or materials, if those trains travel through residential areas.

Statistically speaking, traveling by train could and should be much safer than it is. Also, many safety advocates and legislators attest that there is “significant room for improvement” when it comes to safety in the industry.

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