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Making train interiors safer for passengers

The 'SafeInteriors' project is developing new methods for designing and testing furniture, components and systems associated with train vehicle interiors.

Train crash test dummy © SafeInteriors
Testing for train interior safety
© SafeInteriors

While rail transport in general has an outstanding safety record, accidents do still occur, ranging from minor low-speed incidents to severe crashes resulting in injuries and even fatalities.

"Occupant safety is dependent on the configuration and severity of an accident," explains Roberto Palacín of Newcastle University's NewRail Centre for Railway Research, "as well as the degree of crashworthiness engineered into the vehicle design."

People can be injured in two main ways in a train crash, Palacín explains. "They can be injured in the 'primary impact'; this is a direct result of the collision and can involve crushing of the occupant compartment or penetration of the compartment by parts of an impacting vehicle or obstacle. But they can also be injured as a result of 'secondary impact', which involves contact between the occupant and vehicles interior surfaces, loose objects or other occupants."

A framework for rail vehicle interior passive safety

Train interior with passengers © Peter Gutierrez
Safer trains for passengers
© Peter Gutierrez

Over the past four years (2006-2010), the SafeInteriors consortium, of which Palacín is coordinator, has been looking at furniture, components and systems associated with train vehicle interiors, considering the safety of occupants under collision conditions in a holistic way.

Palacín explains that the project has achieved a number of key outcomes, namely:

  • A new methodology for standardisation of post-accident injury data collection, to facilitate comparison.
  • A toolkit to assess potential occupant injury levels in the rail environment.
  • Identification of key interior components whose design optimisation could lead to reduced severity of occupant injuries.
  • Identification and development of procedures for interior passive safety design and validation.

"We have carried out a thorough programme of research," says Palacín. "In doing so, we have established a comprehensive framework for rail vehicle interior passive safety, taking into account current standards and best practice in the railway industry, regulations and customer requirements."