What are the hundred or so deaths
on the railways every year when compared with the 40 000 deaths
on Europe's roads? Unacceptable figures, nevertheless, say railway
officials who fear the considerable impact on public opinion of
often dramatic rail disasters.
Two years ago, a study by the National Economic
Research Associates showed to what extent national approaches, objectives
and methods differ when it comes to rail safety in Europe - in terms
of technical standards, staffing requirements, management organisation,
approval of rolling stock, and certification of railway operators.
The Commission has proposed a directive in this field, in the belief
that interoperability must guarantee a level of safety that equals
if not surpasses that achieved to date at national level. On the
technical front, this means setting standards for every component
of the rail system: track, rolling stock, signalling, operating
Crash test at 100 km/hr
standards could draw on the results of a number of successful research
projects of recent years. One such example is the Safetrain project
on new designs for rolling stock which made it possible to set resistance
parameters for passenger compartments and driver cabins in the event
of collision, with no increase in weight or energy consumption.
After preliminary studies of force propagation
and deformation on impact, the first field crash tests were carried
out at the Zmirgod site in Poland at the end of 2001. Trains weighing
129 tonnes, laden with a cargo of sensors, hurtled into one another
at speeds of between 36 km/hr and 100 km/hr. These in vivo
experiments are particularly instructive for analysing the spread
of destructive forces, for a given kinetic energy, between the front
of the train and the successive carriages.
main risks were identified for passengers,' explains project coordinator
Antonio Vacas de Carvalho. 'First, the reduction in vital space
when the train structures are deformed or compressed, and secondly
the risk of secondary collisions between the passengers and internal
train elements. The most dramatic feature of train crashes is also
the tendency for the carriages to pile up or 'override', and devices
must be developed to prevent this.'
Recommendations have therefore been made for energy
absorption at the front of the train (particularly to ensure a vital
space for the driver's cabin) and for buffers at the intersection
of train components. Internal elements must also be adapted to reduce
Such solutions have already been applied to the
TGVDuplex. Passenger-free zones (luggage compartments, zones in
front of and behind the railcars) absorb the shock by crumpling,
while the driver's cabin and passenger compartments are designed
to reduce impact to a minimum. Also, as the carriages form fixed
sets - unlike conventional trains - they can neither override nor
spill over the track in the case of an accident.