Rail Traffic: The Journey is the Destination

Enjoy the beauty of magical landscapes from the safety and comfort of a train.

In the ranking of the safest means of transport the train occupies the second place. Photo: Mauritius Images / eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Fotos

Somewhere between London and Istanbul, the famous train is stranded in a snow drift. Nothing is working, including the telegraph – there is no contact with the outside world. And then one night, a passenger is found dead. Thankfully, the great detective Hercule Poirot is on board. He soon realizes: The murderer is one of his fellow passengers. Literature and film buffs have long recognized which novel, and which train we are talking about: “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie.

Train Journeys Offer a High Level of Security

Fortunately, train journeys rarely end in such a manner, and the appeal of this form of travel remains unadulterated. Countless providers offer nostalgia trips with legendary trains, such as the aforementioned Orient Express in Europe, the Trans-Siberian Railway in Asia, the Rovos Rail in Africa and the Rocky Mountaineer in North America. Of course, it is possible to take these trains without a travel agent, whether to explore the different areas in a relaxed manner, or simply to reach one’s vacation destination.

Train journeys are popular in part due to the high level of safety that they offer when compared with other modes of transport. The European Union Agency for Railways presented an intermodal risk comparison for various methods of transport in its “Safety Overview Report” from July 2017. According to this, 0.1 persons lost their lives for each billion passenger kilometers traveled by train in the EU between 2011 and 2015. Private automobiles are far more dangerous in these rankings, with 2.67 fatalities per billion passenger kilometers. The only option that proved safer than rail was the commercial airliner, with 0.06 fatalities per billion passenger kilometers.

Source: Matthias Gaul, Graphics: Freepik.com

It is not just the train companies themselves that contribute to rail safety, with their investments in infrastructure, vehicles, technology and employee training. Independent expert organizations such as DEKRA also play their part. For example, DEKRA Rail monitors, certifies and assesses the rail infrastructure as well as the vehicles that traverse them, including new types of train. The same applies to replacement parts, which are used in the scope of maintenance and repair work.

Rail Traffic Gets Closer to “Vision Zero”

In addition, DEKRA’s Netherlands-based rail division provides consulting on the execution of inspection works. Similarly, the experts are called in to examine the causes of a rail accident, which, while rare, do still happen.

When it comes to collisions and derailments, both the couplings and tensile stiffness of the train play an important role. “In order to calculate how the sudden change in speed will spread through the train in the event of an accident, we have developed ­several numerical models,” adds Pieter Dings, Director of Sales & Business Development at DEKRA Rail, describing an additional area of responsibility. Finally, the rail experts are responsible for a model with which it is possible to calculate the severity of passenger injuries in the event of a collision.

View through the train window on the Tibet Qinghai Railway's Tangula Express (to Lhasa). Photo: Sergiu Turcanu / Alamy Stock Photo

Lhasa Railway: From Xining to Lhasa, this railway makes its way 1,956 kilometers across China, at elevations up to 5,072 meters. Photo: Sergiu Turcanu / Alamy Stock Photo

“With this model, we can examine how retrofitting existing rail stock with impact-absorbing components affects the safety of passengers,” Dings explains. This may be the installation of crash buffers in the frontal area of the train, or shock absorbers both within the couplings and between carriages. Additional measures include optimizing buffer characteristics or the installation of modified couplings between carriages. Modifications to the train interior may affect the spacing, positioning and rigidity of seats, or the placement and form of the tables, to name but a few examples.

So, are we on track? One could say so, yes. All those involved in rail safety refuse to rest on their laurels and declare themselves satisfied with the current situation, and instead strive for further safety improvements. Even still, the “Safety Overview Report” for 2015 listed a total of 18 EU member states that reported zero rail passenger deaths in one or several consecutive years. So-called “Vision Zero” is already far closer to becoming a reality here than it is in road traffic.

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