Fatalities & injuries on the Australian light rail network

Every life lost and injury on the rail network is a tragedy and the impacts on family, friends, communities, rail and recovery staff and witnesses can be profound. These incidents together with thousands of near hits each year can cause trauma and work-related stress and illness to rail and recovery staff. They also cause disruption and delays to hundreds of services each year impacting customers and economic efficiency.

Working closely with rail organisations, the TrackSAFE Foundation is actively engaged in a wide range of rail safety and suicide prevention activities including public awareness campaigns, facilitation of the annual Rail Safety Week and Rail RUOK? Day, the delivery of training and knowledge sharing activities across the rail sector, the commissioning of new research and working with and advocacy to governments.  

Light rail vehicles (trams) have been an important part of the public transport network in many of Australia’s cities over the last century.  However, with the increasing prominence and affordability of private vehicles, some of these networks were retired.  But the last couple of decades has seen a renaissance and new light rail services.

Light rail vehicles have been operating continuously in Melbourne since 1906 and the Yarra Trams network is the largest operating urban light rail network in the world (250km).  Light rail operations were closed in Sydney and reduced in Adelaide by the 1960s.  In 1997 new light rail operations were opened in Sydney and subsequently extended to a 25km network and reintroduced in Adelaide (16km network) in 2020.  The Gold Coast light rail (20km) was opened in 2014 and Newcastle (3km) and Canberra light rail (12km) in 2019.  The Gold Coast and Canberra light rail networks are currently being extended and a new service will be opened in Parramatta NSW in 2024.

Some people may find the content of this report confronting or distressing. The information included here places an emphasis on data, and as such, can appear to depersonalise the pain and loss behind the statistics. If this material raises concerns for you contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Between 2016 – 20231 there were 8 fatalities and 976 injuries plus 13 people who attempted suicide but were not injured.  Most incidents occur in Melbourne which has the largest light rail network.

Of the fatalities, 1 was the result of a fall on a light rail vehicle, 6 were incidents with pedestrians and 1 was an incident with a road vehicle.

Between 2016-2021 62% of serious and minor injuries were the result of slips, trips and falls onboard or alighting or disembarking2.

21 people attempted suicide on the light rail network between 2016-2023.  5 resulted in serious injuries, 3 resulted in minor injuries and in 13 incidents there were no injuries.    There were no fatalities that were suspected suicides.

The TrackSAFE Foundation report Fatalities & injuries on Australian Light Rail 2016-2023 is available here.

1.Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator,  Notifiable Occurrences Category A or B January 2016 – December 2023.   The requirements for operator reporting of notifiable occurrences are set out in the Reporting Requirements for Notifiable Occurrences. See here for information about notifiable occurrences to ONRSR

2.On 1 July 2022 reporting requirements to report slips, trips and falls changed. Data on slips, trips and falls was therefore not available for the second half of 2022 and 2023

Other useful resources:

Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, Key occurrences interactive data

Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, annual Rail Safety Reports

TrackSAFE Foundation, Fatalities and Injuries on the Australian Heavy Rail Network

Australasian Railway Association, Light Rail

Updated 4 April 2024