Do U.S. Rail Safety Statistics Undercount Suicides?


Kurt Topel

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - rail, planning - safety/accidents


Rail safety, railroad fatality, accident, suicide


Rail safety researchers have long suspected that U.S. accidental rail trespassing tallies include some suicides, that is, that suicides are undercounted relative to accidents. Reports issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) imply that suicides account for less than 30% of total deaths, whereas other countries show a much higher proportion of suicides, sometimes as high as 80% of total rail deaths. The purpose of the present research was to gain insight into this question by evaluating whether official manner of death determinations are correctly reflected in FRA reports. All FRA railroad fatality records for the state of Illinois for 2019 were compared with police reports, coroner/medical examiner manner of death determinations, and online media coverage. These sources indicated that less than half of official suicides were reported correctly in FRA reports and that over 50% of all fatalities were a result of suicide. It was also found that the primary reason for the considerable undercount of suicides was FRA reporting defaults and a breakdown in the process of railroads separating accidents from suicides; it was not a reluctance or delay on the part of local authorities to declare the death as intentional.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.