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The Safest Place to Sit on a Train (Guest Post)

Since upgrading my rail commute from 45 minutes to well over an hour, I couldn’t help but wonder what the safest place is to sit on a train in case of an accident.  Before going any further, I acknowledge the fact that trains are much safer than cars and accidents are a rare occurrence.

From what I gather, it seems most train accidents occur between pedestrians and vehicle collisions, while head on collisions with another train are much fewer. While doing research, an interesting website covered some general train accident statistics that are worth noting:

  • About 5,800 vehicles are involved in train crashes every year.
  • Most accidents happen at railroad crossing due to inadequately marked crossings.
  • Roughly 600 people die from these accidents.
  • About 1000 people die from train accidents of all types combined.
  • Statistically speaking train riding is 24 times safer than driving a car.

Despite the statistics and reassurance that I am much better off riding on a train than driving to work, the question still remains:

Where should I sit?

It’s great to hear that far fewer people are fatally injured in train accidents. However, I want to know how to better my chances of not getting seriously injured AT ALL.

Is there a seat on the train that is statistically or historically safer than the rest, where perhaps I may be able to walk away uninjured in a rare chance of a collision or derailment?

Hunting down crash statistics is a bit more difficult than figuring out how many people die in train accidents. However, we can apply some reason, an educated guess, collective opinion as well as experiences of survivors to paint a better picture.

Sit in the front or the rear?

Since most accidents happen at railroad crossings, it is safe to assume that the train experiences a head-on collision with an object.

I would place my bet on the rear of the train being the safer location. Of course rear-ending collisions are not unheard of; perhaps sitting a few cars away from the rear is the best bet here.

Some paranoid folks at Stack Exchange seem to agree that sitting 2/3 or 3/4 from the front end is safest.

Face forward or backwards?

There seems to be little or no argument that backward facing seat is safest for one reason:

Front facing passengers are more likely to fly out of their seat upon head-on impact, since trains don’t have seat belts. This idea is supported by a train crash survivor who witnessed front-facing people flying out of their seats which resulted in severe and fatal injuries.

In fact, another survivor went as far as saying that she will never sit in a front-facing position or near a table.

That’s good enough advice for me from someone who’s been there and experienced it first-hand.

Should you be doing the same?

To claim that my assumptions and information is correct would be false. It’s just that – an assumption based on observations and maybe a few statistical figures (however accurate or inaccurate they may be).

It is important to note that not all trains are the same. Some trains are longer, some are shorter, some older some newer and have varying seat positions.

This is written only as a personal analysis of what I gather to be useful to my personal situation of commuting on the trains of the orange county line.

If you are still worried about being injured in a rare train accident, consider doing your own investigative analysis and fact checking. However, try to consider the fact that the person operating the train is an experienced, trained professional – and then compare that to countless wild twenty-something year-old drivers on the roads.

Chances are there is nothing to worry about. In a rare event, should you or someone you know be unlucky to suffer a train-related injury there is always legal assistance available to help with the physical and emotional toll associated with such tragedies.

Much to my surprise, a good friend Bob Kraft wrote on transit safety today. The article discusses the absence of federal safety regulations for Metro trains and discussion of new laws to change that.

Question for you: Do you ride the orange county line? Where do you prefer to sit and why?