This week I needed to travel to New York City from Washington, D.C. for business–a trip I make fairly frequently.
My choices were Bolt Bus—the budget bus line owned by Greyhound-- or Amtrak.
To me it made little difference in terms of convenience. Of course there was the price to consider. Amtrak, frequented by businesses travelers, is significantly more expensive.
I wound up postponing my trip and never did make it up to New York.
On Monday, I was grateful for my decision after I heard of a fiery explosion on a Bolt Bus that was traveling to Boston from New York City. Although everyone on board got out without injury, images of the burnt out bus hull gave me pause.
But then the next day I heard the news about the Amtrak accident.
Late Tuesday night, an Amtrak train derailed on the way from Washington, D.C. to New York, killing at least eight passengers and injuring hundreds of others.
Should I just drive or walk to New York, as my boss suggested?
Let’s look at the numbers.
By all accounts, traveling by train is safe –and, according to some studies, almost as safe as air travel.
According to a 2013 study by economist Ian Savage that looked at travel between 2000 and 2009, the number of deaths per billion passenger-miles caused by airplanes is 0.07, and deaths per billion passenger-miles caused by trains was 0.43.
And train travel is getting safer. The Federal Railroad Administration figures show that between 2000 and 2014, Amtrak's total accident rate per million passenger miles dropped by more than half, from 4.1 to 1.7. Over the same period, annual Amtrak derailments decreased from 80 to 28.
Surprisingly, despite some high-profile crashes, the bus is even safer than the train.
Savage’s study notes that the fatality rate per billion passenger-miles for buses is 0.11.
Greyhound, which owns Bolt Bus, has a satisfactory safety record in the past two years by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). According to the FMCSA, in the last 24 months, there have been 129 Greyhound crashes- six of them have been fatal and 59 injuries were reported. It is unknown how many of these buses were part of Bolt bus.
In comparison, the number of deaths caused by cars was 7.3 per billion passenger-miles and the deaths caused by motorcycles was a whopping 213, according to Savage's report.
Walking or riding my bike is pretty dangerous as well. Between 2000 and 2009, on average 6,067 pedestrians and bicyclists died on U.S. highways and in collisions with other modes of transport. Of these, 4,930 died when hit by cars and trucks operated by private users, 545 deaths resulted from collisions with commercial carriers, and 592 from commercial users not on highways.
So, it looks like I have nothing to fear about taking the bus or train to New York --and happily will be not be walking.