Why are High-Speed Trains the Safest Form of Transportation?

High-speed train systems have been operated safely every day in other parts of the world for many years. The unparalleled safety record for high-speed trains is based upon their actual operating experience. For example, in Japan high-speed train operations began in 1964. In over 44 years of operation, Japanese high-speed trains (the “Shinkansen”) have carried more than 9 billion passengers without a single train related fatality. In France, their high-speed trains (the “TGV”) have been operating for 27 years and currently carry more than 100 million passengers a year. Like Japan, the French high-speed train system has never had a single high-speed train related passenger fatality on the completely dedicated new line such as will be built for the NY&CRR.

In contrast, the automobile is unquestionably the most used and most dangerous when comparing auto, air and rail modes of transportation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that deaths and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 4 and 33 in the United States. With more and more vehicles on our highways, the potential for automobile accidents increases.

What makes high-speed trains so safe?

High-speed trains have the proven record as the safest and most reliable form of transportation in the world as a result of separating high-speed trains from other forms of traffic and implementing automated positive train control that safeguards against human error.

High-speed trains operate on grade separated tracks designed for high-speeds. Most train accidents are the consequence of passenger and freight trains using the same tracks and with a signaling and switching system that depends on humans. 

The key distinguishing reasons for the near perfect safety record of high-speed train travel in Europe and Asia are summarized below. (The NY&CRR will incorporate all of these safety features, building upon the proven safety and design criteria used for existing high-speed train systems in Europe and Asia):

The entire high-speed train system is fully access controlled and grade-separated (there are no at grade crossings with roads, pedestrians, or other rail services), eliminating pedestrian and motor vehicle conflicts.

The high-speed train systems are completely double-tracked with additional tracks at intermediate stations to support express operations.

The trains are centrally monitored and controlled, effectively preventing operators from making serious errors, stopping or slowing trains automatically in the event of external problem such as earthquakes, objects falling on the tracks, or gale force winds. High-speed train traffic control and communications systems are state-of-the-art, regulated, and managed during all hours of operation. These systems monitor and limit the train’s speed, schedule, routing, and headway (following distance behind another train). These systems, combined with the operator, have integral redundancy and ensure safety.

Heavy, conventional freight trains do not share infrastructure designed for high-speed operations.

High-speed trains use a cab signaling system that transmits commands directly to the driver. This technology makes high-speed operation possible in darkness, rain, and fog. In Japan, even moderate snowfall does not slow the Shinkansen because of special ice-melting equipment built into the rail bed.

Unlike aircraft, high-speed train systems are not subject to turbulence. Passengers may sit without seat restraints and may stand and walk comfortably even at maximum speeds and around curves.

Although high-speed train systems do operate in highly seismic areas, such as Japan, no fatalities have ever occurred as a result of a seismic event. The control system is linked to motion detectors close to faults having the potential to affect the line, even hundreds of miles from the line The systems stops the trains when an earthquake is detected, and at-grade construction in fault zones further improves safety.

Like airplanes, and other public intercity modes, high-speed trains and the infrastructure they operate on (tracks, control systems, and electrification systems) are be maintained on a regular schedule and the maintenance records would be subject to inspection by the Federal Railroad Administration. This regular inspection of both rolling stock and track would ensure the safety of the high-speed train system.