I took up the issue of train safety again when I met train company representatives at Manchester. I am still shocked by what I saw at Ufton Nervet when a train crashed into a small car on the level crossing. The derailed coaches led to deaths and injuries, as people were flung around inside the carriages or flung out of broken windows.
Industry representatives sought to reassure me by saying that modern trains have much stronger windows, so they should not break when someone or some object is thrust against them by the force of a crash or sharp deceleration. That still leaves plenty of opportunities for serious injury.
My shopping list of better safety features is based on the items that are mandatory in cars, and have been for some years.
First, I want proper luggage restraints. Placing heavy and large objects in racks above the seats allows these items to become flying missiles in the event of a crash. Cars and coaches have boots or luggage compartments where all larger and heavier items are stored for the duration of the journey. Planes have doors on the luggage racks which are secured for flight. At the very least trains could fit retaining nets or doors to their luggage racks, so no-one need be injured in future by flying luggage.
Second, on fast trains between major cities I want seat belts. If a fast train is derailed or forced to decelerate rapidly people can be flung out of their seats in ways likely to lead to their injury. It is most strange that cars and coaches are limited to 70 mph on motorways with mandatory seat belts, yet trains are allowed to run at speeds in excess of 100 mph without seatbelts.
Third, I want to see the hard edges and dangerous corners designed out of the coach interior on a train as it has been on cars. There are all too many hard edged tables and hard edges to the seats, and seat fixings. These cause dangers to passengers if they are flung around the inside of the carriage in a crash. Modern cars have soft and padded surfaces throughout the interior, and many have additional airbags which deploy in the event of sharp deceleration.
The train company executives I have spoken to about this are far from sympathetic. They think they have nothing to learn from the far superior standards of vehicle safety in cars and long distance coaches to train carriages. They rely on the big safety advantage of the trains that no other type of user is allowed on the tracks, reducing the possibility of conflicts which occur on multi use highways. This does not seem to me to be good enough, as the big improvements to car safety have cut the injury and death rate in collisions, and applies to cars travelling on motorways where similar exclusions to railways apply.
The main reason the train companies advance against restraining luggage or supplying a seat belt is cost. The legislators have rightly overruled such considerations when it comes to car and long distance coach manufacture. Indeed, car makers now often regard the additional safety features they offer as a selling point that helps market their vehicles. The cost of simple train luggage restraints would be small compared to the price of a new or refurbished carriage. Adding a seat belt as part of the original equipment would not be too expensive, but would greatly add to train safety. I always try and sit with my back to the direction of travel as it gives you a bit more of a chance in a crash, but you could still be on the wrong end of flying luggage and displaced people if the carriage overturns or somersaults.