Classification of railway accidents

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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 the future. Systematic investigation for over 150 years has led to the railways' excellent safety record (compared, for example, with road transport).

Ludwig von Stockert (1913) proposed a classification of accidents by their effects (consequences); e.g. -on-collisions, rear-end collisions, derailments. Schneider and Mase (1968) proposed an additional classification by causes; e.g. driver's errors, signalmen's errors, mechanical faults. Similar categorisations had been made by implication in previous books e.g. Rolt (1956), but Stockert's and Schneider/Mase's are more systematic and complete. With minor changes, they represent best knowledge.

Classification of rail accidents by effects[edit]


Classification of rail accidents by causes[edit]

Drivers' errors[edit]

  • Passing signals at danger
  • Excessive speed
  • Mishandling of the engine (e.g. boiler explosions)
  • Failure to check brakes and safety systems as well as sand reserve
  • Failure to stop at required positions, e.g. level crossings with defective equipment or shunting movements that lead to occupied tracks.

Signalmen's errors[edit]

(Mechanical) failure of rolling stock[edit]

  • Poor design
  • Poor maintenance
  • Undetected damage
  • Overloading or freight that is not adequately secured.
  • Fire starting from combustion motors, electric cables or equipment, leaking fuel or cooling oil

Civil engineering failure[edit]

Acts of other people[edit]

  • Other railway personnel (shunters, porters, maintenance personnel, etc.)
  • Non-railway personnel
  • Accidental
    • Accidental track obstruction e.g. with road vehicles or by working construction vehicles
  • Deliberate (vandalism, terrorism, suicide, extortion, sabotage)
    • Deliberate track obstruction, e.g. with road vehicles or (heavy) objects
    • Intentional damage to infrastructure like tracks, points or signals
    • Level crossing misuse
    • Trespassing
    • Attack
    • Riot

Natural causes[edit]

  • Track obstruction or damage by landslides, avalanches, floods, trees
  • Fog or snow that obscure signals or the current position of the train
  • Wet leaves (or their remains) making the tracks slippery.

Contributory factors[edit]


  • Ludwig von Stockert (1913), Eisenbahnunfalle (Railway Accidents – a contribution to railway operating technology). Leipzig 1913.
  • Schneider, Wolfgang; Armand Mase (1968). Katastrophen auf Schienen. In German, English translation 1979 by E.L. Dellow as Railway Accidents of Great Britain and Europe. Orell Fussli Verlag (German), David and Charles (English). SBN 7153 4791 8.
  • Rolt, L.T.C. (1956). Red for Danger. Bodley Head / David and Charles / Pan Books. Later editions available.