Statistics Explained

Railway safety statistics in the EU


Data from December 2020

Planned article update: 13 January 2022

Highlights

In 2019, there were 1 516 significant railway accidents in the EU-27, with a total of 802 fatalities and 612 persons seriously injured.

There were 713 fewer significant railway accidents in 2019 compared with 2010, a reduction of 32 %.

In 2019, more than half of fatalities from railway accidents in the EU-27 involved unauthorised persons on the tracks (61 %) and almost one third occurred at level crossings (33 %).

Railway accidents, EU-27, 2010-2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railac)

In 2019, 1 516 significant railway accidents were reported in the EU-27. A total of 802 persons were killed in these accidents, while another 612 persons were seriously injured. At EU-27 level, the number of fatalities in railway accidents decreased gradually from 1 245 in 2010 to 802 in 2019.

Suicides occurring on railways are reported separately. With 2 313 reported cases in 2019, suicides outnumber the victims accounted for by railway accidents.

Eurostat publishes data collected by the European Railway Agency (ERA) in Eurobase. This information is also published by ERA.

Full article

Fall in the number of railway accidents

9 % fewer railway accidents in the EU-27 in 2019 compared with 2018

The number of significant railway accidents fell between 2010 and 2019, with the exception of two increases in 2014 and 2017. In 2019, the number of accidents decreased by 150 accidents compared with 2018, to a total of 1 516 accidents (-9 %). Railway safety has generally improved in the EU-27, with 713 fewer accidents in 2019 compared with 2010, a reduction of 32 %. In 2015, the decrease compared with the previous year was particularly marked (-13 %). In 2017, however, the number of significant accidents was slightly above the level of 2015. The decrease in accidents from 2018 to 2019 did concern all accident categories with the exception of one: while the number of level crossing accidents (-10 accidents), derailments (-1 accident), accidents to persons by rolling stock in motion (excl. suicides) (-144 accidents), collisions (-6 accidents) and fires in rolling stock (-16 accidents) all decreased in 2019 compared with 2018, other significant railway accidents (+27 accidents) increased. Accident figures are comparable from 2010 onwards, following the implementation of common definitions across all Member States. Prior to 2010, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia generally reported all railway accidents instead of only significant accidents. As a result, there was a lower number of accidents in several categories from 2010 onwards compared with previous years.

Looking at the detailed 2019 figures on significant railway accidents (Figure 1), the largest category at EU-27 level was accidents to persons caused by rolling stock in motion, with 795 accidents representing 52.4 % of the total. Typically, these accidents involve persons on railway tracks (unauthorised persons or trespassers) that are hit by a running train. Accidents at level crossings, including pedestrians, is the other main category, with a total number of 432 accidents in 2019 (28.5 % of the total). Together, these two categories represented 80.9 % of the total number of railway accidents in the EU-27.

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Figure 1: Rail accidents by type of accident, 2019
(%)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railac)

Germany registered 298 accidents, the highest number of railway accidents among the Member States in 2019, followed by Poland, 214 accidents; together these two countries recorded one third of all significant railway accidents in the EU-27. With 142 accidents, Hungary accounted for almost 10 % of the railway accidents in the EU-27. By contrast, Ireland reported only two significant railway accidents in 2019 (two accidents to persons caused by rolling stock in motion) and Estonia five accidents (four level crossing accidents and one accident to persons caused by rolling stock in motion). Luxembourg was the only EU-27 country which had railways, but that did not register any accident.

Persons killed in railway accidents

More than 60 % of persons killed in railway accidents in 2019 were unauthorised persons on railway premises

Figure 2 shows the number of persons killed in railway accidents in the EU-27 for each reference year from 2010 to 2019. The total number of fatalities gradually declined from 1 245 persons killed in railway accidents in 2010 to 930 persons in 2015. In the years 2016 and 2017, the fatalities remained roughly at the same level as in 2015, increasing slightly to 942 persons killed in 2016 and falling to 933 persons killed in 2017. In 2018, a decrease of 8.6 % was recorded with 853 persons killed, 80 persons fewer than the previous year. The decrease continued in 2019, with 802 persons killed, -6.0 % compared to 2018. Over the period from 2010 to 2019, this corresponds to a reduction in the number of persons killed in railway accidents by more than one third (-35.6 %).

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Figure 2: Persons killed in railway accidents, EU-27, 2010-2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi)

Figure 3 presents the number of rail deaths per million inhabitants. The EU-27 average of 1.8 masks differences between Member States. Three Member States registered more than 5 deaths per million inhabitants: Hungary (8.9/million), Latvia (6.8/million) and Slovakia (5.7/million), while nine Member States registered less than one (Slovenia, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg).

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Figure 3: Persons killed in railway accidents, 2019
(per million inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi) and (demo_pjan)

Focusing on 2019, fatalities in the category “Unauthorised persons” (Table 1) remained the largest category of victims, with 492 cases in 2019 (61.3 % of the total number of persons killed in railway accidents). The second largest category was “Level crossing users” with 263 deaths (32.8 %). Only a fraction of the registered fatalities were railway passengers. In most of the years for which harmonised data are available (2010 onwards), railway passenger fatalities represented only a marginal share (1-5 %) of the persons killed. The exception was 2013, when the 97 railway passengers killed in accidents represented almost 9 % of the total fatalities. This was solely attributable to a railway accident in Santiago de Compostela in July 2013. The 79 fatalities from this accident represented all Spain’s fatalities in the category “Railway passengers” and 81 % of the fatalities in that category in the EU-27 in 2013. In 2019, the share of railway passengers in the total number of fatalities was 2.0 % (16 railway passengers killed).

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Table 1: Persons killed in railway accidents by category of user, 2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi)

The overall trends in the data show that railway travel is increasingly safe, with few fatalities among rail passengers. The ERA estimated that for the period 2010-2014, the fatality risk for passengers travelling on trains was 0.14 fatalities per billion train-kilometres at EU-27 level, one third lower than for a bus/coach passengers but at least twice as high as for a commercial aircraft passengers (For further details, see ERA’s annual publication on “Railway Safety Performance in the European Union”). However, it should be noted that there are substantial differences between Member States, with the risk for railway passengers in some Member States significantly higher than the EU-27 average.

Causes of railway accident fatalities

Most fatalities from railway accidents involve unauthorised persons on the tracks or occur at level crossings

Table 2 outlines the fatalities from railway accidents according to the type of accident. In 2019, almost two thirds of the fatalities in the EU-27 (64.8 % of the total) were caused by “Accidents to persons by rolling stock in motion (excl. suicides)”, typically involving persons that are unauthorised on the railway tracks and are hit by a running train. Together with level-crossing accidents (33.0 %), these two accident types were responsible for almost 97.8 % of all deaths occurring on railways in the EU-27 in 2019.

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Table 2: Persons killed in railway accidents, by type of accident, 2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi)

The number of persons killed in accidents to persons by rolling stock in motion was particularly high in Germany (102 fatalities) and Poland (99 fatalities). Seven Member States — Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Italy, France and Slovakia — registered more than three quarters of the 520 persons killed in EU-27 in accidents to persons by rolling stock in motion (excl. suicides).

Fewer persons seriously injured in railway accidents

Significant reduction in persons seriously injured in railway accidents since 2010, especially for railway passengers

Over the period 2010-2019, the number of persons seriously injured in railway accidents at EU-27 level fell for all categories of persons (Figure 4). This trend is noticeable despite occasional year-to-year fluctuations. Whereas the average annual decrease in the total number of seriously injured persons averaged 11.3 % per year from 2010 to 2015, in 2016 an increase of 21 % in the number of injured persons was observed. The high number of injured railway passengers registered in 2010 was due to the severe train collision at Buizingen (Belgium). In 2016, the number of injured passengers registered a significant increase compared with the previous year, before falling again in 2017 and remaining stable in 2018. In 2019, the number of injured persons (612) registered a decrease of -18.2%.

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Figure 4: Persons injured in railway accidents by category of person, EU-27, 2010-2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi)

Focusing on the year 2019, Table 3 illustrates that the pattern of the various accident categories is directly reflected in the number of persons injured in the different types of accidents. Most persons seriously injured were counted in accidents involving rolling stock in motion (293 injured persons, or 47.9 % of the total) followed by level crossing accidents (257 persons, or 42.0 %).

Far fewer persons were injured in the other types of accidents. Train collisions seriously injured 45 persons in 2019, 25 % more than previous year. In 18 Member States, no persons were seriously injured in train collisions in 2019. Overall in the EU-27, there was only one person seriously injured in derailments in 2019, in Spain. Germany (74 persons seriously injured), Poland (26 persons) and Hungary (24 persons) recorded the highest numbers of persons injured in accidents to persons by rolling stock in motion. It should be noted that the comparison of seriously injured persons between countries may be slightly biased due to differences in reporting regimes.

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Table 3: Persons injured in railway accidents by type of accident, 2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railvi)

Suicides on railways

Suicides occurring on the railways by far outnumber the number of persons killed and seriously injured in accidents

Suicides occurring on railways are reported separately from persons killed or injured in railway accidents. For the EU-27 as a whole, the number of such suicides remained at between 2 300 and 2 800 each year in the period 2010-2019. The highest number was recorded in 2012 with 2 734 suicides on railway premises. In the following years, the numbers fluctuated, changing by between -6.7 % to +6.1 % year-on-year. In 2019, 2 313 suicides were reported, 2.8 % fewer than in the previous year. The number of suicides on railway premises is significant in most of the Member States. With 646 recorded suicides in 2019, Germany alone accounted for 27.9 % of these suicides recorded in the EU-27. There were also significant numbers of such suicides in France (261 recorded cases), Czechia (211 recorded cases) and the Netherlands (194 recorded cases).

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Table 4: Suicides on railway premises, 2010-2019
(number)
Source: Eurostat (tran_sf_railsu)

It is not easy to address measures aimed at preventing suicides from occurring on the railways. Barriers are often built at hotspots and railway station personnel are given training to tackle attempted suicides.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

The sources used for the statistics in this publication are data reported to the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA). Railway safety data have been collected by ERA since 2006 through the Common Safety Indicators (CSIs). These were introduced by Annex I of the Railway Safety Directive (Directive 2004/49/EC). Member States have a legal obligation to submit their CSI data to the ERA. ERA publishes an overview of safety-related CSIs as soon as data have been consolidated. The CSIs data are reported via and available through the ERAIL system. The full set of CSI data is made available in the annually published Railway Safety Performance Report. Accident figures are reliable from 2010 onwards, following the strict application of standard definitions. In the past, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia typically reported all railway accidents instead of significant accidents only. This meant a lower count in several categories of accidents since 2010.

Eurostat has signed an agreement with ERA to disseminate these railway safety data through Eurobase. The data disseminated by Eurostat constitute a subset of the data available at ERA.

Railway accident data were also collected through Annex H providing for statistical returns on railway traffic and transport (Regulation (EC) No 91/2003). This Regulation has been recast and replaced by Regulation (EC) No 2018/643. The data collection through Annex H was phased out and replaced with the data collected by ERA. However, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey continue to provide data (until 2018) according to Annex H of Regulation (EC) No 91/2003, as they do not have an agreement with ERA.

The railway accident data collected by ERA data are located in the “Multimodal data (tran)” section under “Transport safety (tran_sf)” in Eurobase. Historic data based on Annex H can be found in the section “Railway transport - Accidents - Historical data (2004-2015) (rail_ac_h)”.

Some differences may occasionally exist between these data, as ERA handles its own compilation procedures and quality checks. Also, whereas data reported to ERA are provided by the national safety authorities, data reported to Eurostat under the framework of Regulation (EC) No 91/2003 were reported by the national statistical institutes. The NSIs might have depended on data from the same national safety authorities, but not necessarily.


Composition of the EU-27 aggregate

EU-27: European Union composed of 27 Member States: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden.

Cyprus, Malta and Iceland have no railways. Liechtenstein's railways, which are operated by ÖBB, are included in the Austrian data.

The tables include the Channel Tunnel as a separate entity, as data referring to railway accidents in the Channel Tunnel cannot be assigned to either France or the United Kingdom.

Data for Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey are extracted from Annex H of Regulation (EC) No 91/2003.

Some data for the most recent reference year may remain provisional for some time. This is linked to ongoing investigations and hence decisions whether to include or exclude certain accidents and or their categorisation.

Context

National rail networks have different technical specifications for infrastructure – gauge widths, electrification standards and safety and signalling systems – which make it more difficult and costly to run a train from one country to another. EU policies exist to overcome such differences. Creating an integrated European railway area thus requires better technical compatibility – 'interoperability' – of infrastructure, rolling stock, signalling and other subsystems of the rail system. Procedures for authorising the use of rolling stock across the EU's rail network also need to be simplified.

The European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) helps promoting interoperability and develop uniform technical standards, a process in which cooperation between EU countries and rail stakeholders is essential.

ERA, based in Lille/Valenciennes (France), is helping to build an integrated European railway area by improving rail safety and interoperability. Set up in 2006, it develops shared technical specifications and approaches to safety, working closely with stakeholders from the rail sector and national authorities, the EU institutions and other interested parties. Featuring a dedicated safety unit, the Agency also monitors and reports on rail safety in the EU.

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Database

Multimodal data (tran)
Transport safety (tran_sf)
Rail transport safety (tran_sf_rail)
Rail accidents by type of accident (ERA data) (tran_sf_railac)
Rail accidents victims by type of accident (ERA data) (tran_sf_railvi)
Rail accidents involving the transport of dangerous goods (ERA data) (tran_sf_raildg)
Suicides involving railways (ERA data) (tran_sf_railsu)

Data collected through Annex H of Regulation (EC) No 91/2003:

Railway transport (rail)
Railway transport – Accidents (rail_ac)
Annual number of victims by type of accident (rail_ac_catvict)
Annual number of accidents by type of accident (rail_ac_catnmbr)
Annual number of accidents involving the transport of dangerous goods (rail_ac_dnggood)