Attempts to sabotage rails and deliberately derail passenger trains have a long history in conventional and guerrilla warfare as well as during some particularly bitter labor disputes in the past. Since the 1970s, political fanatics have become a major adversary. Terrorists have sought to derail trains to achieve high-casualty events, while anarchists and issue oriented extremists have attacked rails to attract attention to their causes and impose economic damage. In this report, we examine the more than a thousand attempts to derail trains and to attack rail infrastructure to discern overall patterns and trends. We then look at four subsets of attacks in greater detail: those by India’s Maoist guerrillas; those by separatist insurgents in Thailand; those by various jihadist groups worldwide; and those by an assemblage of anarchists, environmental and similar cause-oriented extremists in Europe. How do these adversaries compare in terms of tactics, success rates, lethality, and other factors? Do their different objectives and circumstances affect their actions? Perhaps most important, is there evidence that they become more effective and lethal over time?

Publication Date


Publication Type



Security and Counterterrorism

MTI Project



Security, Terrorism, Derailments, Trains, Bombings


Terrorism Studies | Transportation