Polish rail accidents NOT EU’s worst!


The Szczekociny crash scene. From a photo by Wojciech Janaczek.

(Click image to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

Yesterday we were guilty of sloppy journalism. We reused a quote from The Warsaw Voice claiming that ‘According to the European Railway Agency, Poland has the most dangerous railroads in the EU’. Actually it is not true. Whilst Poland does have the highest number of railway accidents in the EU region, such figures should be normalised per total train kilometres run before performing any inter-country comparison.

This was pointed out by one of BTWT’s readers, Mike, who sent us a detailed comment which we are republishing below. Our sincere apologies for repeating a highly misleading claim and our thanks to Mike for his incisive comment and analysis.

I don’t think it’s entirely right to say “Poland’s railways have the worst safety record in the EU.” Certainly in 2010 Poland saw 449 rail accidents, compared to only 31 in Estonia. However, Estonia has only 900km of working rail compared to 20,000km in Poland, so it’s not really a fair comparison.

I went to the PDF in the post and did some sums on the raw numbers. In terms of 2010 accidents per million train-km, Poland managed 2.05 compared to 3.44 in Estonia. Thus Estonia has more crashes per train-km than Poland. On the other hand, Germany only has 0.29 crashes per million train-km, so there’s a long way to go. Overall, Poland has the 7th highest number of crashes in the EU, according to the numbers in the report. For those who like charts, I have uploaded one here: Accidents per million train km.

This is similar to the charts on pages 26 and 27 of the report which show Poland as being worse than EU average for rail safety, but certainly not the worst. If you don’t want to open the PDF, their summary sentence is “The results show acceptable railway safety performance in the six risk categories in all countries except Romania, Lithuania and Slovakia.”.

5 Responses to “Polish rail accidents NOT EU’s worst!”

  1. Mike Says:

    Thanks a lot for the kind words about my comment. I really appreciate BTWT and am pleased that you care enough about getting things right to highlight this correction.

    To be bitchy for a moment, I’m not surprised that the Warsaw Voice was the source of the erroneous figure. I have never been terribly impressed with their reporting; I remember reading my first copy back in the latter years of the 20th Century and finding some very dodgy throwaway remarks about racial minorities in Poland.

    • Dyspozytor Says:

      The original source of this bodged analysis was the Daily Telegraph!

      There’s a 9 March comment on W-wa Jeziorki by White Horse Pilgrim, quoting this 5 March DT article.

      • Mike Says:

        The Telegraph is not my least-favourite British paper, nor even my least-favourite British quality paper (the Times is sadly awful these days), but I’m not surprised they’re behind this; they have a bad habit of letting dodgy stats through when they fit their assumptions about a story.

  2. Chris White Says:

    I hope someone also points out this error to the The Warsaw Voice.

  3. Chris White Says:

    I have also often seen in print a similar comment about road accidents – that Poland has the worst record for road crashes in Europe – probably based on similar raw statistics!

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