Statistics gathered from European and Japanese national rail systems indicate that their passengers travel far more safely than Amtrak's. Statisticians compare modes of transportation on the basis of fatalities per million or billion passenger miles to compensate for differences in the number of users and the distances they travel.
``As train accidents tend to be occasional, unlike steady road-accident trends, no one year's result will necessarily be typical,'' noted Trevor Halvorsen, spokesman for the International Union of Railways.
Amtrak spokesman John Jacobsen said Amtrak is, politically, an ``orphan'' compared to the European and Japanese systems.
``They spend massive amounts of money on maintaining their rails, and they have systems that carry massive numbers of people. Amtrak has been struggling to avoid deferring maintenance on our rail line as we get caught in the political whipsaw between Congress and the administration, and our budget is shrinking. It's a very tough situation to be in,'' Mr. Jacobsen says.
Amtrak's operating subsidy from the government has dropped from nearly $700 million in fiscal year 1984 to $584 million for fiscal 1989.
Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, has calculated that Amtrak's passenger fatality rate for the past 10 years is almost identical to that of the airlines.
``If safety is your basis for choosing between air and Amtrak, use the company whose terminal you can reach without the most unsafe conveyance of all - the automobile,'' he says.