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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > Raising European train safety standards
Graphic element Raising European train safety standards
    07-12-2001
 

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.

High-tech crash testing
High-tech crash testing
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The 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. The SAFETRAIN 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.

Working together
 

Project 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."

 
The findings
 

The 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."

 
High-impact results
 

SAFETRAIN 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 casualties.

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.

 
Working together
The findings
High-impact results
   

Key data

Research on improving vehicle crashworthiness, occupant survivability and vehicle construction standards is supported under the Growth Programme's 'Land transport and marine technologies' key action.

Projects

SAFETRAIN - Train crashworthiness for Europe railway vehicle design and occupant protection (BRPR970457).

     

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