Yesterday’s Metro accident was terrible, obviously. Any time innocent people are hurt or killed it’s a tragedy. But lest this disaster be used for political gain by transit opponents, let’s take a moment to compare modes.
This incident is only the second time in Metrorail’s history that a train accident has resulted in fatalities. The other accident was in 1982. Together the two accidents combined have resulted in a total of 12 deaths, averaging out to 0.36 deaths by rail accident per year since the system opened in 1976.
According to the US Census, in 2006 alone (the latest year for which data is available) there were 36 auto traffic fatalities in the District of Columbia, 651 in Maryland, and 963 in Virginia. In 2005 DC had 48, MD had 614, and VA had 947.
What happened on the Red Line was a terrible accident, but it would be the height of intellectual dishonesty to cite it as a reason not to ride Metro. Metro is safe.
Update 6/24/09: Using slightly less simple but probably more accurate math (though still very back-of-the-napkin), BeyondDC estimates that Metrorail is approximately 34 times more safe than driving. See the comments for specifics.