North American Rail Safety Needs Much Work

Jonathan Brun

For one reason or another, railroad safety is horrible in the United States and Canada. As statistics found here point out, North America has over 5 times more accidents per 1,000 km of track than our European counterparts.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.57.12 PM

A recent New York Times article went into detail on the subject and clearly stated:

“The only significant [U.S.] government intrusion into the railroads’ self-regulation of the nation’s 70,000 to 100,000 railroad bridges is a requirement that the companies inspect them each year. But the Federal Railroad Administration, which employed only 76 track inspectors as of last year, does not routinely review the inspection reports and allows each railroad to decide for itself whether or not to make repairs.”

The NYT article also points out that despite the Lac Megantic train explosion, that killed 47 people, new regulations have not been brought into force in Canada. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper even had a full page advertisement for better rail safety along with an article outlining Canadian National’s (CN) spike in accidents in 2014. CN gives every possible excuse, from random statistical anomaly to higher loads due to oil tanks. What CN or the other North American rail companies do not do, is accept responsibility for their remarkably poor safety record and failing infrastructure.


Both the Canadian and United States government need to take quick, rapid and meaningful actions to force the rail companies to invest in their tracks and improve safety procedures. If Germany and France can manage far more trains, with higher population densities and less than one fifth the accidents we have, then we can too. Tracks and trains need much more frequent inspections by government and by rail companies, there really is no other solution. Will it take another disaster like Lac Megantic for the powers that be to take action on railroad safety in North America?