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image European Research News Centre > Transport > The safety factor
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image image image Date published: 28/08/02
  image The safety factor
RTD info 34
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  Despite the dramatic nature of rail disasters, it has always been safer to travel by train. Any significant increase in rail traffic in the future must not be allowed to compromise a safety record that is one of the strengths of rail travel.
   
     
   

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 procedures, etc.

Crash test at 100 km/hr

These 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.

First applications

'Two 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 injury.

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.

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The loss of vital space through crumpling and carriage overriding: two essential aspects of rail safety studied by the Safetrain European project, in particular by conducting crash tests with trains travelling at up to 100 km/hr.

The loss of vital space through crumpling and carriage overriding: two essential aspects of rail safety studied by the Safetrain European project, in particular by conducting crash tests with trains travelling at up to 100 km/hr.

 


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