More on China’s July 2011 Rail Accident

July 27, 2011

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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