More on China’s July 2011 Rail Accident

Passport, a Blog by the editors of Foreign Policy Magazine ran, “You think this weekend’s Chinese train crash was bad? It’s nothing compared to India’s deadly rails.”

Passport reported, “India has one of the largest railway systems in the world, carrying about 19 million passengers every day on about 7,000 trains. It’s called the ‘lifeline to the nation’, Unfortunately, that often means trains are jam packed.”

It’s worth visiting Passport for the photos to see how crowded India’s trains get.

Then a friend, the author of East of Indus, about life in the Old Punjab, sent an e-mail that said, “Accidents can occur, but Chinese technology is as advanced as anywhere in the world. India’s development is not nowhere near that level; accidents with multiple deaths are a way of life in India and don’t shock too many people there.”

At this point, I asked myself what the ratio of deaths and injured were compared to the total number of people travelling by rail in India, China and the United States.  After that, I spent several hours hunting for statistics, and finding facts for the United States was not easy.

What I discovered was, “China had 876.22 billion passenger kilometers in 2010; India had 838.03 billion passenger kilometers in 2009, and the United states had 17.21 billion passenger kilometers in 2008.

The United States has the largest railroad system in the world with 226,427 kilometers of rail (2007). China is third place with 91,000 kilometers (2010) and India is fourth with 64,215 kilometers (2011).

Then I found these statistics for the United States from an American government source.

In 1990, there were 599 fatalities and 22,736 injured in rail accidents.

In 2005, there were 525 fatalities and 10,424 injured.

In 2008, there were 514 fatalities and 7,993 injured.

In 2009, there were 458 fatalities and 7,103 injured. (Note: these numbers are much higher than the source I found for High Speed Rail Tragedy in China Reveals Small Minds in the West and may include light commuter rail). Source: RITA Bureau of Transportation Statistics

For China in 1990, no rail accidents were listed, while India had seventy killed.

For China in 2005, there were five killed, while India had 122 killed and many injured.

For China in 2008, there was seventy-two killed and 416 injured, while India had no fatalities or injuries reported.

For China in 2009, seven were killed and 280 injured, while in India thirty-two were killed and 280 injured.

Source: List of Rail Accidents (Wiki) Note: I suspect this source gets most of its information from the major media reporting on rail accidents.

In the United States for 1990, 2005, 2008 and 2009 (combined), there were about 30.3 deaths for every billion passenger kilometers traveled. In addition, according to Parilman & Associates, a National Law firm that specializes in rail accidents, “Every ninety minute (in the United States) there is a train derailment or collision.”

For every billion passenger kilometers traveled in China for the same four years, there were .02 deaths.

For every billion passenger kilometers traveled in India, there were .07 deaths.

The death rate in America was 1,515 times higher than China for each billion passenger kilometers traveled.

In addition, delays are common on long-distance Amtrak routes in the United States. This is because private railroads own the tracks used by Amtrak, and are more concerned about their own freight trains than about Amtrak’s passenger trains. Average delays vary considerably among routes. However, as of 2008, Amtrak has increased its efforts and most trains arrive on time well over 50% of the time.

Note: As a journalist, I am aware that the media does not always report on types of accidents or tragedies that happen often. However, the media does report on rare accidents and tragedies such as an airplane crash.  For this reason, it is possible that rail accidents are so common in the United States, the media does not bother to report most of them unless it is really horrendous, which leaves the public ignorant of how unsafe America’s rails are.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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4 Responses to More on China’s July 2011 Rail Accident

  1. Varun says:

    This is Incredible.
    Are the numbers for China & India real or just inconclusive because of lack of source information?

    • Varun,

      Since my first source while researching all rail accidents didn’t list all of the accidents, deaths and injured for the US and I found a US government source listing more after several hours of Googling for this post, it is possible that smaller accidents in China and India do not make the Wiki list–only those that show up in the media. However, it is a well known and an often forgotten fact (due to the average American short attention span and poor memories) that the infrastructure in the United States is aging and falling apart.

      One example is a major bridge between the US twin cities that collapsed in recent years causing deaths and a scandal followed by a series of pieces in the media about how many bridges in the US needed to be replaced because of age and there were many.

      It stands to reason that since the US rail network is mostly privately owned (by a variety of railroad companies) and short term profits are more important to the private sector than replacing the system to make it safer, all they do is mostly patch damaged sections of track resulting in the number of accidents the research points out.

      To reply properly to your question, I did more research as I wrote this reply to find out if there was any information about the condition of the American rail system.

      The historical roots of the crisis of Amtrak
      American passenger rail system plagued with endemic delays

      In most countries of Europe, railways were nationalized before the 20th century owing to their economic and military importance. Elsewhere, nationalization came in response to mass social struggles. Many railways in South America, Africa, and Asia were taken from private control as part of anti-colonial movements. The last two decades have seen a return of privatization for numerous railways around the world.”

      “In the United States, railways have always been in private hands, with the exception of Amtrak. For these private companies high-volume, long-distance freight traffic was and is the primary source of revenue. Nevertheless, passenger service was extensive and widely used from the inception of railroads until the 1950s, when the growth of interstate highways and later the airlines began to cut sharply into the use of passenger rail.”

      America’s Infrastructure Deficit
      “Our runways are clogged, our rail system is decrepit, and our levees — well, the ASCE gave our levees a D-minus — and its report came out four years after Hurricane Katrina. But in 2011, infrastructure is more than roads, rails and runways. The United States lags the rest of the developed world in broadband speed, penetration and cost. The country has no smart grid to speak of. We don’t just need to bring our infrastructure up to “good condition.” We need to make it better.”

      The Metro Crash: A Nation’s Aging Transit System – TIME MAGAZINE,8599,1907095,00.html

      “The D.C. Metro is hardly the only one in the U.S. with an aging fleet. Public-transit advocates in many major cities face a similar problem: an aging, underfunded transit system struggling to safely ferry ever larger numbers of riders.”

      “President Barack Obama on Monday proposed spending $556 billion on road, bridge, transit and rail upgrades over six years – the largest transportation plan in U.S. history.”

      Singling out roads, bridges and railways, Obama said the U.S. “infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.”

      50 Must See Repoart Cards and Studies on America’s Crumbling Intrastructure

      “America’s infrastructure is aging, and the solutions to repair transportation, waterways, construction and urban and rural environments are hot-button issues for all engineers, the general public and for politicians. Learn the facts about these issues through our 50 must-see report cards, studies and infographics on this country’s crumbling infrastructures.”

  2. Xiaohu Liu says:

    Hey congrats, you got a nod from the editor of FP magazine.

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