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Classification of Railway Accidents

Classification of railway accidents, both in terms of cause and effect, is a valuable aid in studying rail (and other) accidents to help to prevent similar ones occurring in future. Systematic investigation for over 150 years has led to the railways’ excellent safety record.


Classification of rail accidents by effects


  • Head-on collision
  • Rear collision
  • Collisions with buffer stops
  • Obstructions on the line (road vehicles, landslides, avalanches)


  • Plain track
  • Curves
  • Junctions


  • Fires and explosions (including sabotage/terrorism)
  • Falls from trains, collisions with people on tracks

Classification of rail accidents by causes

Drivers’ errors;

  • Passing signals at danger
  • Excessive speed
  • Mishandling engine (e.g. boiler explosions)

Signalmen’s errors;

  • Allowing two trains into same occupied block section
  • Incorrect operation of signals, points or token equipment

Mechanical failure of rolling stock;

  • Poor design
  • Poor maintenance

Civil engineering failure;

  • Track (permanent way) faults
  • Bridge and tunnel collapses

Acts of other people;

  • Other railway personnel (shunters, porters, etc)
  • Non-railway personnel
  • Accidental
  • Deliberate (vandalism, terrorism, suicide)

Contributory factors;

  • Strength of rolling stock
  • Fires resulting from accidents
  • Effectiveness of brakes
  • Poor track or junction layout
  • Inadequate rules

1- Ludwig von Stockert (1913), Eisenbahnunfalle (Railway Accidents – a contribution to railway operating technology). Leipzig 1913.
2- Schneider, Wolfgang; Armand Mase (1971). Railway Accidents of (Great Britain and) Europe. In German, English translation by E.L. Dellow. David and Charles.