By Peter Schlesinger
July 31, 2013

Recent news from the railroads of Europe has not been good: On July 12, an intercity train derailed at a station outside of Paris, resulting in 6 casualties. On July 25, 79 passengers died when a high-speed train from Madrid careened off the tracks. And earlier this week, two trains collided in Switzerland, killing one and injuring dozens more.

The three fatal crashes give cause for thought: Are European railroads safe?

Europe's trains have had a sterling reputation. In this year's Travel & Tourism Competition Report, which asked industry leaders from around the world to rank countries on a wide range of factors, six of the ten best-regarded railroad networks were European. Notably, Switzerland ranked first, France fourth, and Spain eighth.

And hard numbers back up these findings. In the most recent Railway Safety Report from the EU, released in May, the European Railway Agency concludes that “railways remain one of the safest modes of transport in the European Union and worldwide.” Rail travel in the EU causes a staggeringly low .156 fatalities per billion passenger miles. Motorcycle accidents, in comparison, result in 52.59 deaths per billion passenger miles.

Furthermore, there are very few accidents each year that result in fatalities. So few, in fact, that the occurrance of one can heavily skew annual results, as we're seeing this year. In Europe last year, only four accidents resulted in 5+ fatalities, and 38 indivudals died. This past month alone, the death toll from train accidents is almost 100.

Any travel fatalites are disconcerting, and July 2013 has been a tragic month for the European rail network. That said, the continent's train infrastructure is still safer than almost any other transportation option. Consider tiny Switzerland, whose railroads transport over 900,000 passengers each day, usually without any incident at all.

Negligence on the conductor's part appears to have caused the Spanish crash, although the reasons for the French and Swiss crashes are still under heavy review.

While we await the results of the investigations, we here at T+L are hopeful that Europe's railways will continue to be the safe means of transportation we've known them to be.

Peter Schlesinger is a Research Assistant at Travel + Leisure, and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.