THE number of railway accidents fell by 11% from 4187 in 2019 to 3742 in 2020 figures published by the International Union of Railways (UIC) on November 16 have revealed.  

UIC says that 89.9% of all accidents were caused by third parties and that the most common type involved a person being hit by a train away from a level crossing (76%) followed by a person being hit by a train at a level crossing (9%) and collisions with motorised road vehicles at level crossings (4%). Derailments accounted for 4% of all accidents. 

In its executive summary, the UIC says that the expected lower numbers of significant accidents and fatalities per train kilometre are only visible for level crossing accidents. There were no major train collisions nor major derailments in 2020 the says UIC which is why the number of passenger deaths at 59 was the lowest ever recorded.

In 2020, 2303 fatalities were recorded, 10 fewer than in 2019. UIC says is this mostly due to the absence of large scale train collisions and derailments. Overall there were 305 fatalities caused by level crossing accidents in 2020, down from 337 in 2019. Fatalities in other accidents, which includes train collisions, derailments, fires and shunting operations, dropped from 55 in 2019 to 45 in 2020, however the number of fatalities recorded where individuals were hit by a train or falling from a train outside a level crossing rose from 1893 in 2019 to 1953 in 2020.  

The number of significant accidents declared by established UIC members in 2019 was 1561, which was lower than all previous years. However, in 2020 this rose to 1585 which UIC says needs further investigation.  

The Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupted railway traffic from March 2020 onwards following the introduction of lockdowns, curfews, working from home and other restrictions. UIC says freight and passenger traffic fell by more than 20% in comparison with January 2020 following the introduction of restrictions and that levels comparable with those were not seen until later in the year. Nevertheless traffic volumes were lower in 2020 than 2019 with traffic dropping by 8% as a whole. 

The UIC safety Index has continued to decrease over the lifetime of the safety database and fell to 8.39 in 2020.

The data covers 35 UIC members in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Four new infrastructure managers began contributing in 2021: LTG (Lithuania), NRIC (Bulgaria) and Euskotren and FGS (Spain).  

A significant accident is described as meaning any accident involving at least one rail vehicle in motion, resulting in at least one fatality or serious injury, or in significant damage to rolling stock, track, other installations or the environment, or extensive disruptions to traffic, excluding accidents in workshops, warehouses and depots.