Train accidents continue to occur
across Europe despite major improvements in active safety systems, such
as signalling, and a major refocus on passenger train safety. These accidents
result in an average of 100 passenger and crew fatalities per year within
the EU. Now, the SAFETRAIN project is devising new manufacturing standards
for maximising vehicle crashworthiness and occupant survivability.
European Commission's objective over the next ten years, as revealed in
the recent White
Paper entitled "European transport policy for 2010: Time to decide",
is to refocus Europe's transport policy on the demands and needs of its
citizens, including a high degree of reliability and safety. Already in
1996, in a bid to reduce rail accident fatalities, the European Commission
issued a directive on the development of Technical Specifications of Interoperability
(TSI) which included standardised safety systems. By its very nature,
this directive encouraged cross-border European co-operation among train
manufacturers, operators and academicians. Soon thereafter, in August
1997, a major consortium was formed, aimed at improving the passive safety
of railway cars.
Improving passive safety means looking at the construction of vehicles
with the aim of reducing the severity of accidents when they do occur.
project included 16 partners and ran for four years, concluding in July
2001. The participants succeeded in developing a new technology for understanding
and managing collision energy, and designed specific impact structures
capable of crushing in a controlled and progressive way.
SAFETRAIN was one of seven finalists nominated
in 2001 for the European Commission's prestigious Descartes
prize . The prize rewards outstanding scientific and technological
achievements resulting from European collaborative research and is open
to all fields of scientific endeavour, including the social and economic
sciences. It is not limited to EU-funded projects and is meant to recognise
outstanding collaborative efforts as well as quality scientific research.
partners included railway manufacturers, operators, academic institutions
and independent research centres. The European Commission provided
45% of the project's total budget of €5.1m, with railway partners,
under the sponsorship of the International
Railway Union (UIC) , providing the remaining 50%.
The project was proposed by António Vacas
de Carvalho of Bombardier
Transportation in Portugal. Carvalho first came into contact
with many of the SAFETRAIN consortium partners while co-ordinating
a previous project called TrainCol (Train Collisions) between 1990
and 1993. He says, "Considering our different backgrounds,
all the partners were highly co-operative and worked very hard together
to get the job done." The project incorporated the results
of a major collision accident inquiry and the further statistical
analysis of data on some 500 accidents collected by 12 railway companies
in Europe between 1991 and 1995.
Although the application of active safety
through signalling systems is fundamental, the report concluded
that passive safety, i.e. vehicle crashworthiness, would continue
to require attention and improvement. Vacas de Carvalho explains,
"SAFETRAIN identified two main risks to passengers. First,
the loss of survival space when the train's structure collapses,
and second, the risk of secondary collision between passengers and
internal fixtures within the train."
most common accidents involved head-on or rear-on collisions with
other railway vehicles, collisions with cars, lorries and buses
at level crossings, and collisions with buffer stops or buffered
vehicles. The most vulnerable type of train with respect to head-on
collisions was already known to be the regional train because it
does not have a long nose to absorb the collision energy. Further
analysis of regional train types was carried out by the Instituto
Superior Técnico (IST) in Lisbon and Université
de Valenciennes et du Hainaut-Cambrésis (UVHC) , with
technical specifications being drawn up by the French
National Railway Society (SNCF) and Germany's
Deutsche Bahn (DB) : All of this lead to recommendations on
the design and manufacture of alternative vehicle ends.
- A new high energy extremities (train
front) design was undertaken, including an energy absorption tear-off
coupler, an energy absorption obstacle deflector, and replaceable
energy absorption buffers. The driver's cabin structure was designed
to progressively absorb further collision energy while maintaining
the driver's vital space at the rear of the cabin.
- The new low energy (inter-coach) design includes
an energy absorption tear-off coupler and replaceable energy absorption
buffers composed of calibrated tubes. The
UK's Health and Safety Laboratory , along with other partners,
vigorously checked both these designs, carrying out complex statistical
and dynamic tests.
A review demonstrated that 'overriding' in end-on
collisions, that is when one train comes over the top of another,
is the single most serious event that can take place as far as passenger
safety is concerned. The review showed that buffers, with their
curved, heavily greased surfaces which allow sliding and which can
easily deform locally, have played a role in almost every overriding
collision. "Coaches have a tendency to climb on top of each
other in a collision accident," says Vacas de Carvalho, "which
is very dangerous for the passenger. In the United States, 'anti-climbers'
are compulsory for avoiding overriding, and we aim to include these
in all trains across Europe."
has resulted in the drafting of informed recommendations covering
a wide range of train operations, including high-speed, intercity,
mainline and regional trains. Again, Vacas de Carvalho: "We
have not developed complete designs; we have developed methodologies
for approaching passenger safety in all trains, including specifications,
design, and testing procedures."
The SAFETRAIN project
recommends that manufacturers include special areas within a train's
structure that will deform in a crash, areas where there are no
passengers such as the front of the train. These 'collapse zones'
should be capable of absorbing the collision energy in a head-on
crash of up to 54km/hr. Partners have also recommended the adoption
of anti-climbers to curb vehicle overriding, thereby reducing both
the extent of vehicle collapse and the number and seriousness of
The results of SAFETRAIN
are expected to form the basis for new standards and regulations
for Europe's trains of the future. Speaking about the project at
the World Congress for Railway Research in November 2001, Research
Commissioner Philippe Busquin said, "SAFETRAIN has already
had a direct impact on EU legislation, specifically the interoperability
directive." Importantly, SAFETRAIN has made it clear that standardisation
and EU activities with respect to technical specifications for interoperability
need streamlining in order to avoid confusion as to which technical
principles should be adhered to.
Research on improving vehicle crashworthiness,
occupant survivability and vehicle construction standards is supported
under the Growth Programme's 'Land transport and marine technologies'
SAFETRAIN - Train crashworthiness for Europe
railway vehicle design and occupant protection (BRPR970457).