The Safest Place To Sit On A Train, According To Science

05/14/2015 06:05 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015
JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

Tuesday's deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, which killed eight people and injured more than 200, has turned the country's attention to railroad safety. But for those commuters questioning whether or not to board the next train, statistics may offer some reassurance.

According to the scientific journal Bandolier, the lifetime odds of dying on a passenger train in the U.S. are about one in 1,871,241. That figure was calculated based on population, as opposed to miles or kilometers traveled, or number of trips taken. But even if you take into consideration the miles traveled, the numbers are still low, as the overall fatality rate for long-haul passenger train service is around 0.43 fatalities per billion passenger miles.

"Train accidents are rare," Dr. Allan Zarembski, research professor and director of the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Accident rate in 2014 was 2.2 accidents per million train miles (a train mile-is one train going one mile), this number has been declining steadily... In 2005, it was 4.14 accidents per million train miles."

Subways, buses and planes are even safer than trains, The Washington Post reported this week. Cars, on the other hand, have a fatality rate 17 times as high as the rate for train travel.

But if you are still concerned about safety -- or if you're just curious about which part of the train is the safest place to sit in the event of a derailment or crash -- science has an answer for that too.

On a passenger train, your safest bet just may be to sit in the middle cars, or one car behind the middle. After all, most collisions happen at the front or rear of a train, and the types of issues that cause derailments, such as broken rails or welds, tend to occur near the front of the train, according to findings cited by Live Science.

"The reason why some people say in the middle is very simple," Dr. Greg Placencia, an adjunct research assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California, told HuffPost in a telephone interview. "A lot of crashes come from the front, so the first two cars are usually hit the hardest. Some come from the back but they are not as usual... Far fewer crashes happen when the middle is hit directly."

Even if you can't get a seat near the midpoint of a train, there's another potential safety factor you might want to consider -- namely, which way your seat is facing.

"I personally prefer rear facing so that in most cases you are pushed into the seat in the event of an emergency braking application," Zarembski said in his email.

In other words, "it comes down to basic physics," as Placencia said. "When something happens, most of the time you have a problem when a train has to stop quickly... If I'm in a forward-facing seat, then I'm going to be pushed out of my seat. But if I'm rearward-facing, what happens is, I would be pushed back into my seat."

Of course, in the very rare event of a catastrophic crash like Tuesday's, there's no guarantee that sitting in a certain car or facing a certain way in your seat means you'll escape unscathed. But in other, less disastrous instances, it possibly could be a way to spare yourself some trouble.

Also on HuffPost:

Amtrak Train Crash In Philadelphia
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