by Phil Marsh

345 people killed on UK railways last year

Published: 28th September 2014

But UK railways remain in the top safety performing tables

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has just released the key safety data statistics for 2013-14 for the UK rail network for the period covering 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014. The headline is that very regrettably there were 345 fatalities on the UK rail network as a whole. This includes the national rail network operated by Network Rail, London Underground and other rail operations including tramways and heritage railways. The number of deaths increased by 19 compared with the previous year but 304 of the deaths were recorded as suicide.

Network Rail (NR) has been running a campaign for several years in conjunction with the Samaritans to prevent suicides and have installed fences along many stretches of track and on platform ends to help prevent deaths. This has prevented an estimated 200 suicides and as a result, the scheme has been extended for another five years.

Despite these efforts, there were still 315 fatalities on the NR network, of which 308 were public (non-passenger) fatalities, four were passenger fatalities and three were workforce fatalities.

Safety breaches or not?

But do these carefully collated and reported figures reflect the real situation? Obviously yes, these deaths have occurred on the railways but for example one member of staff died due to a cardiac arrest and two members of staff were killed in a road traffic accident when returning to their depot. Despite being on a road, as they were on duty, they are statistically counted as railway deaths. Two track workers being struck by trains in separate incidents. The total number of mainline fatalities was 21 more than in 2012-13.

The 308 non-passenger deaths on the mainline railway was an increase of 20 compared with the previous year with 279 (the highest since this system of reporting started 11 years ago) of these suicides or suspected suicides, an increase of 13%. Trespassing caused 21 more deaths, a reduction of a third. The remaining eight were killed on level crossings which arguably could be classified as road accidents when road users ignore the safety warnings.

Accidents happen to station and revenue protection staff on the mainline network but the number was the lowest since the current method of collating these statistics started. Ticket disputes are the primary cause in around 41% of reported assaults on staff, with alcohol/drugs the primary factor in 17% of assaults.

Six passenger deaths

The four passenger fatalities on the mainline network, the same as the year before, all took place on the platform-train interface - none of which were during boarding or alighting trains. This was again the joint lowest figure for over a decade despite record numbers of passengers and more and more trains, around 25,000 operated daily. The two passenger fatalities on the London Underground network was the same as the year before and also occurred at the platform-train interface.

Injuries to passengers showed a slight increase to 11,047, an increase of 0.9% over the previous year. Most of these were due to slips, trips and falls probably as people rushed in congested areas or fell due to bad weather in slippery conditions and these continue to be the highest cause of passenger injuries every year.

During 2013-14 there were two fatalities as a result of a train accident. Both occurred when a passenger train formed of a diesel multiple unit struck a car on the automatic half barrier level crossing on Station Road at Great Coates Station near Grimsby. The deceased were the driver and passenger of the car.

Train Accidents

The number of train accidents decreased by nearly 10% from 694 to 627 in 2013-14 and the number of incidents involving a passenger train decreased by 8.4% from 582 to 533.

And underground…..

On London Underground networks incidents increased by 11% from 18 to 20 in the same period. London Underground has fitted as standard, barriers between carriages to prevent people falling between them from platforms and on newer lines such as the Jubilee, have fitted screens along the platforms with doors that align with the train’s doors also to prevent passengers falling onto the tracks. Crossrail is also using this method of accident prevention on platforms.

Railway staff are not immune to accidents and injury as staff injuries recorded on the mainline network rose by 206 (3.5%) while on the London Underground, staff injuries rose by 302 (8.3%) and on other networks by 34 (16.9%).

Non-mainline Networks

The number of deaths on railways not classified as mainline, preserved railways for example increased from two to three in 2013-14 of which two were non-passenger and one was a passenger fatality.

Major injuries increased by 43% in the last year from 40 to 57 while other injuries reduced by 10% from 379 to 340. ORR’s “inspections” identified improvements to be enforced on two private railways regarding the quality of their safety management systems (SMS) and also served one prohibition notice on operators to bring aspects of their SMS “up to an appropriate standard”.

They said:

ORR's Director of railway safety, Ian Prosser, said:

"Managing safety on the rail network presents a major challenge to the industry as it faces pressures from rising numbers of passengers and trains. This is why there is no room for complacency and ORR is focusing attention on safety at stations and at track and rail constructions sites. The regulator wants to see improvements in safety culture with strong leadership across the rail sector."

YOU can get involved in the debate

ORR’s Director of railway safety, Ian Prosser will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on safety challenges facing Britain’s railways on Thursday, 2 October from 1:30-2:30pm. Follow @railregulation on Twitter for the latest updates, news and data from the regulator and join the discussion on rail data trends using #openrail.

YOU can get involved in the debate

ORR’s Director of railway safety, Ian Prosser will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on safety challenges facing Britain’s railways on Thursday, 2 October from 1:30-2:30pm. Follow @railregulation on Twitter for the latest updates, news and data from the regulator and join the discussion on rail data trends using #openrail.

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