Carriages which are capable of withstanding highly destructive collisions, and new European safety standards in the railways sector, are the results of the TRAINCOL project, which brought together industrialists, research centres and railway companies from four countries of the European Union.
Trains are an ecological mode of transport
and now reach considerable speeds, which make them a serious middle-distance
competitor to planes and even cars, given the increasing problems
of traffic. What is more, this mode of transport offers a high guarantee
of safety compared with road transport. Nevertheless, the rare accidents
which do occur can give rise to serious damage in both human and
material terms, given the number of people transported. Safety problems
are therefore also on the agenda of the railway industry.
In 1991, the Portuguese company, Sorefame, which builds railway equipment, set up a research consortium on railway collisions with the Technical University of Lisbon. They were joined in their work by companies such as GEC Alsthom (France), Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocariles (Spain) and the CIC (Cranfield Impact Centre, England). Given the name of TRAINCOL, the project was to last four years and was started with the support of the European Commission.
first task the partners undertook was to systematically analyse
the accidents which had occurred in France, Spain and Portugal during
the previous ten years. Since the existing reports were lacking
in information, the researchers had to complete them. They collected
as many data as they could in order to base their work on a solid
foundation. The result was a thorough and minutely detailed report
(Proposal for a Standard of Train Accident Report) which analysed
52 accidents. Thirty-six of these (i.e. 69%) involved a collision
between two trains. Fifteen or so had resulted in very considerable
material damage. An examination of these data made it possible to
correlate the seriousness of bodily injury caused by a head-on collision
with the speed of the accident. If an accident of this type occurs
at 40 km/h, for instance, approximately 40% of the passengers are
injured and 7% killed.
The consortium's next task was to test rail collisions with the help of the French National Railway Company (SNCF). For example, a carriage weighing 200 tonnes and travelling at 30 km/h that runs into another weighing 400 tonnes, but which is stationary without the brake on, will lift the stationary vehicle up and, at the point of impact, the two carriages will interpenetrate to an extent of 1.20 metres.
The study concerning the injuries sustained by passengers was carried out by British specialists of the CIC. Thanks to sensors on the dummies used during the tests, computer calculations made it possible to measure the consequences of a frontal impact under various circumstances.
Using the results of these experiments, the researchers of Sorefame and the CAF undertook to design a new type of carriage in which the distortion of the areas reserved for passengers would be much more limited than at the present time in the case of a frontal impact. "The Portuguese Railways have already decided to include this new generation of passenger carriages in their train sets on the Sintra line," explains Rui Loureiro, an official in Sorefame's R&D unit. "In addition, thanks to this international partnership, the results have been validated at the European level and a safety standard has been proposed."