Classification of railway accidents, both in terms of cause and effect, is a valuable aid in studying rail (and other) accidents to help to prevent similar ones occurring in the future. Systematic investigation for over 150 years has led to the railways' excellent safety record (compared, for example, with road transport).
Ludwig von Stockert (1913) proposed a classification of accidents by their effects (consequences); e.g. head-on-collisions, rear-end collisions, derailments.Schneider and Mase (1971) proposed an additional classification by causes; e.g. driver's errors, signalmen's errors, mechanical faults. Similar categorisations had been made by implication in previous books e.g. Rolt (1956), but Stockert's and Schneider/Mase's are more systematic and complete. With minor changes, they represent best knowledge.
In most countries with extensive road systems and use of the private automobile, transport accidents include a only small percentage involving the railways. In the UK, for example, in 1986 there were 220 deaths and injuries to passengers, staff and third parties as a result of specifically railway operations. However, multiplied on a world-wide scale, rail casualties and railway accidents without reported physical casualties are estimated to involve over 700,000 passengers annually and to create hazardous conditions for tens of thousands of rail-side community residents during derailments of freight cars and tanks containing hazardous chemical and explosive substances. Rolling stock, bridges, rails and switches are deteriorating in many countries including the USA, UK and other industrialized nations, creating additional risks to life and property.