Safety on the train


        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.


  1. Bazman
    October 4, 2013

    Surly it must be up to the train operators to decide their own levels of safety and for passenger to decide whether they want to travel under each companies level of safety?
    Your attitude could see claims for hot coffee and other American type claims.
    Car manufacture also need less safety regulations such as the abolition of the absurd European rules some cheap Chinese cars from the EU. The safer driver should be allowed to decide if these cars are sensible for them. Ultimately it is your own fault if you are involved in an accident if a pedestrian steps out into the road and is run over why should anyone else suffer by such things as insurance claims and damage to their car? It should be made possible to sue the person or their relatives for compensation in the case of children or OAP’s with money taken from benefits if required with insurance available for this. A single boxed ticked would be enough on any befit claimant or could be added to house insurance for taxpayers.

  2. lifelogic
    October 4, 2013

    I am not so sure, the best thing is to ensure they do not crash in the first place, with decent track maintenance, signaling, bridges rather than crossings and automatic braking systems where needed. Trains are heavy and so do not very often have huge decelerations.

    Trains are ten times safer than cars per mile and 200 times saver than motor bikes and 25 times safer than walking or bikes. Perhaps far more lives would be saved by measures in these areas, per £1 spent. Or as I say on track maintenance, signaling, bridges and crossing and automatic braking systems to prevent the crashes in the first place.

    1. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      Air travel, excluding small private aircraft, is even safer than train travel. Perhaps even safer than staying at home and certainly safer than going for a walk.

      1. Anonymous
        October 4, 2013

        And safety belts are not worn all the time on aircraft – only for landing/take-off and turbulence.

        Quite clearly the risk of accident has to be factored into the economic decision to fit a seatbelt over spending the money on something more effective.

    2. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      Just heard the BBC interviewing Tony Benn on Ralph Miliband. What a pathetic interview not a single sensible question. More like an advert from the Ralph Miliband appreciation society. No mention of his wanting the UK to lose the Falklands war, his comments at 17 or his attacks on the UK institutions when older.

      The BBC is totally pathetic and hugely biased. This was also seen on Question Time last night. Well done to the only voice of reason on the panel, and often a very amusing chap writer too Quentin Letts. Let us hope we do not have to see (words left out ed) Mehdi Hasan ever again.

      1. Bazman
        October 4, 2013

        What you really did not like was the BBC interviewing Tony Benn not the questions. Benn is like cardboard over Paris at night to you on anything that’s for sure.

        1. lifelogic
          October 4, 2013

          In some ways I rather like Tony Benn clearly he is daft on most issues, wasted huge sums of money on Concord and similar, but he is right on the EU and democracy. Certainly he is rather preferable to his son who seems to lack sense, brain or principles.

      2. uanime5
        October 4, 2013

        When exactly did Ralph Miliband way he wanted the UK to lose the Falklands? Why are you assuming that he held the same views at 17 throughout his entire life? The Conservatives have also attacked UK institutions, are you implying that they also hate the UK?

        1. lifelogic
          October 4, 2013

          Well the current Conservative leadership certainly hates the thought of any true, independent, UK democracy.

          1. Bazman
            October 6, 2013

            Your ‘democracy’ is just a permit to allow a race to the bottom. Rigsby. Ram it.

    3. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      I see that HMRC is endearing itself to tax payers as usual:-

      ‘Get off your backsides’ and register to avoid a fine over child benefit, HMRC boss tells 200,000 higher rate taxpayers. Perhaps they are too busy working or hanging on the phone waiting for HMRC to bother to answer. A tax helpline run by HMRC costs callers £136m a year through delays in answering calls. The Commons Public Accounts Committee found a quarter of the 79 million annual calls to the HMRC phone line go unanswered, despite a £900m investment in customer service. Get off your backside Lin Homer.

      Even when they do actually answer they often know virtually nothing of the tax system and are likely to give you or your accountant totally the wrong or no answers. Often costing you yet further money and wasting your time and your accountants too. What a typically stupid thing for Lin Homer to say.

      Mind you the main blame lies with Osborne and the absurd system he has created in Child Benefit (the robbing back thereof) and indeed in many other areas. Helping hard working people as he would call it. Or just robbing them as every one else does.

      Cameron said. “And believe me – we will keep on cutting the taxes of hard-working people.” Well Cameron no one trusts you because you are a proven ratter (on Cast Iron and Inheritance Tax). Even the above quote is totally disingenuous, you cannot “keep on” cutting until you actually start some cutting. On balance taxes are way up and especially up on hard working people. They will have to go up further as Cameron refuses to cut the endless waste. So if he wins prepare for yet more ratting.

      1. Hope
        October 5, 2013

        Over 300 tax rises, more people drawn in to pay the higher rate of tax even though they could not be described as rich. High NI, which is a con because it is not anything other than a tax. Added together the government gets more of the persons earnings than them! Pensions taxed by Osborne, as bad as Brown in 1997, VAT increased even though the Tories claimed not to have any plans to do so, stamp duty is nothing other than day light robbery. No wonder they are building over every square inch of land available. Any spare room and a wind mill is erected. We are over taxed full stop. Stop spending!

        As Farage rightly stated recently over Cameron’s claims about the EU, he is either ignorant or a liar. I actually think he is arrogant and treats the public with contempt. He gives me the impression he thinks he is so clever we are bound to believe him. Based on U turns and failed promises I would not believe a word he says.

  3. alan jutson
    October 4, 2013

    I can understand your desire for seat belts and luggage nets, but soft edges would soon get torn or split given the hard use trains are put through.
    We also have the vandal issue on public transport.

    Do remember John, a car is someones personal property and is usually treated by its owner with a degree of care.
    Trains on the other hand go through a hard life and therefore surfaces and fittings have to be hardwearing and easy to clean/wipe down.

    I do not see how glass is any stronger now than in the past, its either toughened or laminated for safety, both have advantages and disadvantages in certain situations.

    Toughened will stand an impact from a blunt object before it shatters completely, laminated will crack easily but will hold its position, thus is not good I would suggest for situations where an emergency escape is needed in case of fire.

  4. margaret brandreth-j
    October 4, 2013

    The trouble with air, bus and train travel is that as individuals we have not got control . In cars we have to some extent , although there is always some fool who would cause an accident unexpectedly, but we feel that if we obey the highway code and try and keep alert to potential problems that we can escape them. This is not so when we put our lives into the hands of others , we feel vulnerable. Safety factors are so important when responsibility for so many lives is an on going daily feature of working lives. I totally agree with you.

  5. Anonymous
    October 4, 2013

    For seat belts to be effective all passengers must have a seat. Airline style baggage stowage would require supervision and policing – this would mean more staff on trains and more police intervention where refusals are encountered. This is not how the railway works, it seems.

    Possibly the best investment for rail safety is to prevent accidents rather than mitigate them: replace level crossings on fast lines with bridges and strengthen barriers between road and rail.

    Rail is immeasurably safer than road and has got safer in recent decades.

    1. Anonymous
      October 4, 2013

      The installation of TPWS has been successful – collisions between trains are down markedly over the past 13 years as signals passed at danger have been reduced and, where they are passed, the stopping distances have been shortened.

      The biggest threat remains road vehicles on crossings. The risk from large trees falling on the line must be taken seriously too and they require continual inspection and cutting back – funds must not be diverted from this vital task.

      Spend the money on this sort of thing rather than on seatbelts which will need policing and which standing passengers (there are many of them) can’t use anyway. On empty trains many of the passengers seem to sit sideways with their feet on the seats or prefer their bags beside them.

      The Ufton Nervet inquiry must have been harrowing but we must apply cold analysis of the industry statistics for a sense of proportion and to see that, actually, rail has much to teach road on the issue of passenger safety.

    2. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      Indeed a rear facing available seat for passengers would be a good start.

  6. Hope
    October 4, 2013

    Well said. Perhaps your stupid government could invest more in existing transport infrastructure than the economic stupidity of HS2. I note wavering over no subsidy for nuclear power stations is the stumbling point with Hinckley, yet more money is thrown away for wind mills and diesel power generators to back them up! Anyone prepared to tell Davey, DECC or the coalition of the economic madness oft heir decision? This is costing us all a fortune, Tory and Lib Dumbs do not deserve to be in government. As a aside, this decision should be of no consideration for the EU whatsoever.

  7. Leslie Singleton
    October 4, 2013

    One thing missing these days is an enormous (preferably steam) locomotive (or even two) at the front of modern trains. These were so heavy that in most crashes they just kept on going and pulled their train along with them. These days the front carriage (with the driver) is as light as a feather like the carriages behind it and is liable to be thrown in to the air, with somersaults etc, or crushed, on hitting even next to nothing and again its train with it. Inertia and momentum and all that. A real train smashing in to the small car you mention would have scarcely noticed. Vestiges of thinking along these lines may be why train executives do not want to spend more money and put prices up even more. Also a real engine worthy of the name could have a cow catcher at the front as in all good American movies that would likely just brush a small car aside thus minimising the collision and with the engine probably staying on the rails. Just a thought. Another is how hard it would be to strap in people who are necessarily standing up. Yet another in this day and age is that people could stay at home more instead of forever dashing all over the place.

    1. Anonymous
      October 4, 2013

      Older train carriages used to ‘telescope’ into each other causing hundreds of casualties rather than the tens we tend to get in accidents these days.

      They also used to fragment and splinter rather than dent and crumple.

    2. uanime5
      October 4, 2013

      The problem with using heavier trains is that they require more energy per mile, so will be more expensive to operate than their lighter counterparts.

    3. lifelogic
      October 5, 2013

      Indeed, far too much pointless dashing about for things can can be done perfectly well on the phone, internet or by post. Often just an excuse to avoid the office and work I find.

    4. Bazman
      October 5, 2013

      Why not have nuclear powered trains, now nuclear power is so safe they could be operated in London?

  8. Peter
    October 4, 2013

    Sorry John, but these ideas are impractical and wrong headed.

    Are you seriously suggesting that long distance rail passengers be strapped in for 5 hours or whatever, all to protect them from an insignificant risk?

    Rail has an excellent safety record compared to other forms of transport and arguably it is already over-regulated. The last thing it needs is superfluous “safety” measures imposed from outside, whose costs will be born by passengers.

    Indeed, these ideas may actually lead to more casualties, as people are priced off rail onto more hazardous means of transport – anyone fancy a trip to Glasgow in a 25 year old Escort…?

    In any case, the point that you miss with rail safety is that the major effort goes into +preventing+ situations where a crash may occur in the first place, rather than trying to mitigate its consequences eg TPWS, AWS, vigilance devices, signalling that prevents conflicting moves and fails right side and so on.

    If you really want to make a useful contribution to rail safety, you might like to look closely at level crossings. Much more needs to be done to deal with problem users and to eliminate level crossings altogether when this is possible.

  9. JimS
    October 4, 2013

    As long as we use friction brakes the maximum rate of deceleration of any vehicle is limited by the ‘grip’ that the wheel has on the road or rail.

    For a road vehicle the maximum brake force that can be applied to the vehicle is about equal to the weight of the vehicle. When this ideal condition is met a car can do a ‘1g’ stop, or in other words lose speed at the rate of about 22 miles per hour each second.

    For a train using a steel wheel on a steel rail the maximum rate is about a fifth of that of a car or about 4.4 miles per hour per second. That is why railways have signalling systems and reserved pathways to ensure there are NO collisions. Could railways use rubber tyres? Yes they could but all of the energy gains of using a steel wheel would be lost.

    Essentially railway vehicles DON’T collide. Sensible safety precautions take account of the likelihood of an incident happening and the consequences before attempting to impose mitigation measures.

    If you really want to do something sensible regarding transport safety BAN THE BIKE! It is crazy that this is the one transport activity in which other people are expected to be responsible for the selfish idiocy its exponents.

    1. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      Motor bike (with adrenalin junkies in charge), cycling and walking are the most dangerous forms of transport, all far more dangerous, statistically, than driving while over the limit. Indeed look at these first. You will not save very many lives on trains with belts and nets I suspect.

    2. Mark
      October 4, 2013

      There are about 5-6 train collisions per year on our network, and about a dozen at level crossings, and some 400 collisions involving animals (an increasing trend) or other objects (decreasing).

      It seems as though a combination of the police and better prevention measures has sharply dented the number of cases of objects being thrown at trains – down almost 90% in a decade. I had personal experience of this many years ago, with a stone thrown though the window resulting in a cut face needing a stitch of a friend of mine from the broken glass (the train was travelling at perhaps 60 mph).

      Fires too are down from around 300 to about 50.

  10. Bob
    October 4, 2013

    Level crossings should be phased out entirely.
    HS2 should also be phased out entirely.

    We need more money spent on the roads, especially when the economy is struggling, this would provide useful jobs and it would save time and fuel wasted by the current congestion and pothole ridden infrastructure.

  11. Iain Gill
    October 4, 2013

    These ideas would be better addressed as a letter to the editor to be published in one of the train magazines read widely by the industry and enthusiasts. And as discussions with the academic staff at the national railway museum and elsewhere. Industry execs are generally just generic businessmen.

    One thing that is correct is lack of luggage space being an issue. Some train sets, especially the long distance “cross country” trains running from the south coast to Scotland are very short of luggage space. Around holiday times they end up completely blocked up in the aisles and so on with passenger luggage. Very badly designed, really the trains are designed as short hop trains not long distance ones.

    Also the next set of fast trains for the East Coast mainline and Great Western line are already a fair way down being agreed. They are making a massive mistake completely going over to electric and not keeping some diesel capacity, which is the only thing that currently keeps the east coast going when problems with the overhead lines happen.

    As for seatbelts I like travelling long distance by train precisely because it’s the last available way of doing a long distance without being restrained. I’d want to see the statistics on crashes and look through them, but instinctively I would guess the hassle and cost versus lives saved for seatbelts on trains is nowhere near as compelling as other forms of transport?

  12. John Eustace
    October 4, 2013

    It seems unlikely that money spent in this way would give the highest return in terms of injuries avoided per pound spent.
    I would suggest instead that a better payback would come from proper cycle lanes that keep cyclists segregated from road vehicles.

  13. A different Simon
    October 4, 2013

    The new passenger bridges over the tracks in Reading and Wokingham seem to have been built with considerable head room which is good .

    Is this to enable double-stacked container freight trains or double decker passenger trains ?

    If the UK is proposing to build trains higher with a higher centre of gravity it should make them wider too for stability and capacity .

    For selected routes we could ditch Stephenson’s 4’8.5″ and revert to Brunel’s 7′ 0.25″ .

    Rather than address the symptoms of a derailment or make it less likely , one could implement positive retention rails to make derailment an impossibility .

    Perhaps raised monorails which would be less easy to sabotage .

    Safety in passenger cars has gone so far that it has made them less safe and the cars brake and handle so much better that people no longer have to develop driving skills .
    Car drivers feel invincible and drive accordingly which is very bad news for people on motorcycles and pedal cycles .

    The politicians answer will be cars that drive themselves .

    The safety gear and luxury gear has also made cars extremely heavy . A 1983 Sierra weighing in at around 2,200lb and a 2013 Mondeo weighing in at around 3500 lb . To get better fuel economy , some of the safety and luxury gear has to be sacrificed .

    Technology can do a lot but Western politicians are always trying to shield people from the fundamental truth that you can’t always have it all and often choices have to be made .

  14. oldtimer
    October 4, 2013

    You make very good points. At the very least there should be netting restraints for items on luggage racks. I am not so sure about seat belts. Is it your aim to make wearing them compulsory?

  15. David
    October 4, 2013

    Aren’t trains safer for long distance travel than cars? Therefore if these changes make train travel more expensive, causing more people to travel by car, couldn’t the number of people being killed traveling long distance increase?
    Surely the best thing to make travel safer in the UK is to make train fares cheaper?

  16. Neil Craig
    October 4, 2013

    I have sympathy with the company executives here – the safety record of rail is many times better than roads. As a society we are very poor at assessing risk otherwise we would spend hundreds of times more on stopping MRSA than in keeping windmills safe and 10s of thousands of times less on safety of nuclear plants.

    However I would spend more on making it impossible to cross unmanned level crossings against the lights and on CCTV coverage there.

    1. lifelogic
      October 5, 2013

      “As a society we are very poor at assessing risk” – indeed and risk/reward. Look at the vast number of fools who buy lottery tickets every week. Still I suppose it transfers cash from the dim poor to the rich and charities. Alas the government gets a big cut for them to waste too.

    2. Neil Craig
      October 9, 2013

      I should acknowledge that I appear to have been wrong to believe official claims that rail is far safer than road.

      “since there were 18 times as many passenger-miles by road than by rail, the comparison exaggerated in favour of rail by a multiplier of 18.

      The comparison is between the system-wide deaths on the entire road system, including pedestrians, cyclist and people on motorbikes, with rail passengers, probably those killed in so called Train Accidents. That introduces a further massive exaggeration in favour of rail.

      The consequence is to create an entirely false impression.

      Furthermore deaths to passengers in train accidents are trivial compared with rail safety as a whole. To illustrate, Table 5 shows that in the decade to 2007 the cost of these deaths amounted to 4.6% of the cost of all fatalities, including trespassers but not suicides or suspected suicides, and to 1.5% of the cost of all deaths plus serious injuries, again excluding suicides and suspected suicides (supposing we can value the non-fatal rail casualties at the same rate as serious road casualties).

      Against that background we say that the railway lobby’s presentations mislead politicians and the public on a mammoth scale.”

  17. frank salmon
    October 4, 2013

    Hilarious. Sorry John but I just don’t feel unsafe in a railway carriage. However, you are right to point out that safety is an issue. Paul Withrington at has done some brilliant work on this and there is no evidence that trains are safer than cars. Given that trains already absorb massive subsidy, (because they are not economical to run), I feel the answer lies in reducing unwanted services rather than spending even more on the ruinous investments we already make. And HS2? Why don’t we have a speed limit? Say, 70mph – that’ll slow the b……d’s down won’t it? God forbid if ever one of these trains crashed. Thankfully, we can be certain that it will never happen, can’t we?

  18. James Strachan
    October 4, 2013

    The main aim of the railway system is primary safety – don’t have an accident. This is secured by the combination of signalling that permits only one train on one length of track at a time – reinforced by TPWS (Train Protection Warning System) that automatically prevents trains from passing signals at red.

    Statistically speaking, you are actually safer on a train than you are in your own home.

    The design of railway carriages does include soft furnishings and high backed seats that restrain the passenger. Adding seat belts and luggage restraints would do little more and would be very inconvenient for passengers on the 99.9999% of journeys that do not end in an accident.

    I would suggest, John, that you use your contacts to get a footplate ride. That will give you a better idea of the precautions taken to keep the railway safe.

    Reply:I have seen the railway at close quarters, and will never forget the carnage from the derailment at Ufton Nervet.The technology of narrow steel wheel on steel track can go horribly wrong and cause a very bad accident – e.g. the speeding Spanish train recently.

    1. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      The speeding Spanish train recently needed automatic safe speed controls much more more than seatbelts.

  19. Richard1
    October 4, 2013

    I wonder how relevant rail will be in 50 years with driverless cars on the horizon.

    1. Bazman
      October 4, 2013

      Still going to need to park somewhere and what about freight?
      Why not just stop all tax on helicopter costs and allow large twin rotor ones to land or hover on top of any building in London with abolition of noise laws for all aircraft, allowing the super rich to travel more freely attracting more of them here and their taxes to build more roads and rail?

      1. Mark
        October 4, 2013

        A driverless car can park away from where it delivers you – indeed, it can be used productively while you are at work, instead of spending the day in a car park.

      2. Bazman
        October 9, 2013

        Disgusting left wing elf an safety stories like this do little to help airport expansion and economic recovery.
        Nothing to do with noise just their lifestyles and envy when they see planes above their houses that they cannot afford to be on.

  20. Robert Taggart
    October 4, 2013

    Speaking as an anorak !…

    Fourth paragraph – Aye.
    Fifth paragraph – Nye – as a regular coach traveller also – one can admit to never wearing the seat belt. As an occasional car traveller – one always does and did pre ’83.
    Sixth paragraph – Aye.
    Seventh paragraph – Aye – but perhaps pressure could be brought upon the train builders also ?
    Eighth paragraph – happy travels Johnny !

  21. Martin Conboy
    October 4, 2013

    Trains are far, far, far safer and less likely to crash than is a car or coach being driven on the road or motorway. You are a lot safer in a train without a seatbelt and with unsecured luggage and tables with corners, than you are in a car with the luggage in the boot and an airbag in front of you.
    For that reason I suggest that politicians refrain from trying to make already very safe trains safer still, and instead devote their efforts more productively into persuading people to use them in preference to their cars, if they feel that their personal safety is threatened by travel.
    I would suggest that driving up the costs of train travel by imposing a raft of safety legislation on train construction will in fact have an overall negative impact on personal safety as more people will instead choose to take their car or go by coach.

  22. lojolondon
    October 4, 2013

    Good point, John, I always sit with my back to the direction of travel so when there is a collision I just have to face objects and people flying towards me, not be flung forward myself. Paranoid, or cautious?

    1. Bazman
      October 4, 2013

      You and the likes of you telling us that there is to much elf and safety at work, but travelling with you back to the direction of travel when travelling to your dangerous coffee and pencil sharpening related office job tells us all we need to know. Paranoid, or cautious? No. Just a (fool ed). Edit that one John…

  23. lifelogic
    October 4, 2013

    Facing the back of the train does indeed make it much safer in crashes, as would facing the back on planes.

    Cancelling the madly uneconomic HS2 project and indeed most train subsidies and (thus getting more people flying than taking the train) would be cheaper and safer. It would probably save more lives, on balance, than seat belts on trains and nets on luggage racks too.

    High Speed trains are also rather more vulnerable to terrorism than planes as the whole track vulnerable.

    1. Anonymous
      October 5, 2013

      A little thought will tell you that ‘facing the back’ of a train can only work in one direction of its travel.

      (This for the benefit of Mr Redwood – so as to avoid embarrassment at one of his meetings should he intend to pass the idea on.)

      Reply There is always a back to face whichever way the train is going!

  24. Excalibur
    October 4, 2013

    For goodness sake, John, we are constrained enough without being imprisoned by seat belts on trains.

  25. Douglas Carter
    October 4, 2013

    I can understand one unspoken element of the stance of the Rail Companies.

    As a qualifier, I have no sympathy for the Rail operators in any respect – none whatsoever.

    To take a hindsight view on some future hypothetical rail disaster involving rail carriages which were indeed fitted with seat belts and baggage restraints, you may still have injuries from passengers who were compelled to take the journey without a seat, standing as usual in the aisles, or in the intra-carriage spaces.

    I can see future compensation claims for those injuries and deaths predicated on the fact that to travel without the benefit of such restraint is implied as more hazardous than using it – that the Rail operators have given a manifest and tacit acceptance of increased hazard. (Of course it’s plain common sense that’s the case – plain common sense, however, rarely occupies a Court Room for a lengthy period…).

    In terms, the Rail Companies may be compelled to end the practice of passengers standing for their respective journeys. There’s no need to illustrate the many consequences of that possibility. The laws of unintended consequences would have a very distant reach in such an instance.

    And again, as a qualifier – I’m not playing devil’s advocate – I have no residual sympathy for the Rail Operating companies. Only for those who have no option but to suffer the dreadful and overpriced services offered.

  26. A.Sedgwick
    October 4, 2013

    Good piece – the disinterest is wilful blindness, a common malaise in politics.

  27. Lindsay McDougall
    October 4, 2013

    It’s not just the cost of installing safety netting and seat belts but the cost of inspecting and maintaining them. Another consideration is that, once it has been established that operators have an obligation to install and maintain seat belts in good working order, then if there is a crash and a seat belt fails, legal action will follow. Railways, we should remember, do not pay their way. Any unfunded cost increases will come back to the taxpayer. As always, I believe that the costs of any transport system should be borne by those using it.

  28. Alte Fritz
    October 4, 2013

    When I was engaged in a correspondence with a train operator, I complained that rolling stock was so full that some passenger has to stand in a sort of footwell leaning on folding doors. The Chairman of the TOC in question asserted that overcrowding on trains would not cause any more or worse injuries than if the train were not overcrowded.

    Does that mean that basic standards are too low or the Chairman had taken leave of his senses?

  29. wab
    October 4, 2013

    Mr Redwood has presumably done a cost benefit analysis.

    Presumably he has estimated how many serious injuries / deaths would be avoided per year with these changes. My guess: £100 million.

    If Mr Redwood has better estimates we would be glad to hear them. Meanwhile, this looks like a waste of money, certainly compared with other safety improvements.

    And who would pay for these safety improvements? Passengers or the taxpayer? Every time there is a major train accident they interview loads of commuters who all to a person say they want more safety but they want someone else (i.e. the taxpayer) to pay for it.

    Are seatbelts on trains going to be mandatory? In particular, are there going to be fines if you don’t wear one? If you are in your car by yourself and not wearing a seatbelt you are causing no harm to anyone but yourself, and yet the State thinks that you should be fined £100 if caught. Just another indication that the Health and Safety control freaks run society. On a train, like a plane, if you don’t wear a seatbelt you might cause harm to your fellow passengers if there is an accident. So should the fine for not wearing a seatbelt on a train be £1000? (On a plane you would probably be thrown in prison for not wearing a seatbelt when instructed.)

    “The train company executives I have spoken to about this are far from sympathetic.”

    Should we be surprised? Nobody likes a know-it-all amateur to start lecturing them about how to run their business.

    Reply Yes, you should be asked to wear a seat belt on a fast long distance train as you are on a plane and in a car. Yes, there is an original equipment cost, though I suspect you could design the safety characteristics in that I am seeking with no overall increase in the cost of a carriage if you also insisted on efficiency improvements and better competition in the rail carriage industry. Cars have had all sorts of safety features added by law without becoming prohibitively costly. Quite often improvements in an industry have to come from outside, as the small tight knit group running monopoly businesses can no longer see the reality of the shortcomings in their cost structure, comfort, safety and service levels.

  30. Bazman
    October 4, 2013

    Getting a seat never mind a seatbelt would be a start many commuters would tell you.

  31. rick hamilton
    October 4, 2013

    Having travelled thousands of kms on Japanese high speed trains I would never fly if a Shinkansen (bullet train) were available. With trains you have no boneheaded security checks, taking off shoes etc, no waiting round boarding, almost no delays due to weather and none due to delayed arrival of the incoming train! They run from city centre to centre. Safety is a function of an efficient system to avoid collisions and derailments in the first place rather than crash survivability. I would not want seat belts etc and I doubt that many passengers would use them unless forced to do so.

    Travelling 1000 kms every working week for 7 years the Shinkansen was only late 3 times due to earthquakes or typhoons. And I mean not exactly on time, not within 10 mins either way. Also in almost 50 years the Shinkansen has never killed anyone. My main concern about HS2 is whether it is actually possible to run a system here with the same accuracy and safety record as in Japan.

    Frankly I cannot believe the lack of interest in advanced trains and the poverty of ambition which now seems to grip the UK. My only gripe about HS2 is that it should have been built decades ago and if we are planning one now it should be a 500 kph Maglev system. The Japanese have now started building such a system themselves. And HS2 should go to the most distant parts of the UK or it is pointless – Belfast would be a good starting point for through services to Paris and beyond.

    1. lifelogic
      October 4, 2013

      My only gripe about HS2 is that 90% of the investment would clearly be totally wasted. Pay £70Bn get value of perhaps £7Bn. Let the users pay for it if it makes sense, with proper compensation for those robbed of land and blighted. The project would be a dead as wind farms without the corrupt? tax payer subsidies.

  32. Mark
    October 4, 2013

    It is always helpful to try to analyse the risk of different kinds of accidents in deciding how to prioritise safety measures. There are some data here:

    It seems as though there are large numbers of minor injuries (5-6,000 p.a. for passengers, and a similar number among the workforce) for which causes are not recorded. If the fact of a minor injury is recorded, surely it makes sense to analyse the locations and causes when the numbers are so high. The ORR should recommend this be reported: any sensible company will investigate because of the potential for claims litigation.

    More serious injuries among passengers are dominated by slips, trips and falls, and accidents involving getting on or off a train or with trains passing through stations (platform/train interface).

    Fatalities are almost entirely suicides or accidents to trespassers (electrocution or run over), with some deaths arising from level crossing accidents and from “platform/train interface”.

    It seems the first thing they should do is to replace polished concourses with non-slip surfaces, and ensure that platforms and stairways are kept ice free, swept, and without uneven slabs that trip people up.

    Reply Deaths/ accidents due to trespass are still deaths/accidents caused by moving trains. Such accidents on roads caused by pedestrians stepping in front of moving cars are attributed to the cars.

    1. Mark
      October 5, 2013

      Surely a link is not controversial?

    2. Mark
      October 5, 2013

      A more detailed report is available from the Rail Safety and Standards Board here:

  33. Chris S
    October 4, 2013

    As a passenger in the Clapham Junction train crash which killed 35 people and injured at least 100, I feel more qualified to comment on this subject than on most.

    It’s true that trains fall a long way behind cars on interior safety but as with anything, cost/benefit has to be a consideration.

    (Although this is clearly being ignored where HS2 is concerned )

    The facts are that the current death rate in the EU for train journeys is on average just one death per 12.8 billion passenger-km.

    The equivalent figure for road vehicles in the UK is 45.4 deaths per billion passenger-km

    The plain fact is that only ONE passenger has been killed on a British train since 2004/5
    In 2012 alone there were 1754 road accident deaths.

    With the risk of travelling by train being so very low, I don’t believe it would be worthwhile spending the huge sums necessary to upgrade coach interiors.

    If it were to cost £100m ( a wild guess ) I am sure that the same sum spent on road junction improvements would yield a far better reduction in deaths and injuries.

    The case for the improvements you are suggesting can simply not be made.

    Reply One of the main reasons train travel is safer per passenger mile than car travel is the strict enforcement of a complete ban on anyone else using the tracks, whereas most of our roads are also used by pedestrians,cyclists, even children playing. It does not relate to trains being intrinsically safer than cars. Clearly a vehicle which can steer round an obstacle/person and has good brakes and tyres is intrinsically safer than a train if used in similar conditions.

    1. ChrisS
      October 5, 2013

      John : while I agree with the point you make in your reply as to why trains are intrinsically safer than road vehicles but this is not a good argument to spend money on rail passenger safety.

      The simple facts do not support your argument at all.

      If £100m ( or any other figure ) was made available to reduce death and injuries anywhere on the UK transport system it should surely be spent in the areas that would yield the largest reduction in deaths and injury per pound spent.

      Improvements to passenger safety in railway coaches would be a long way down the list of the most effective ways to spend the money.

      From my journey to Chard in Somerset just yesterday I can give you a perfect example :

      I came to a stop sign at a junction at the end of a small country lane. I was looking to turn left onto the main road.

      The hedge was more than 2m high and came right to the edge of the rather narrow main road which had no pavement. It was simply impossible to see round it without the front of my car venturing out on a blind bend and inevitably causing an accident, even though the traffic on the main road was moving at no more than 30mph.

      It was simply impossible for any vehicle to turn out of the lane without there being a very high risk of a bad accident. My wife had to get out of the car and stand at the edge of the road to tell me when there was a gap. This in itself was dangerous.

      Had I been on my own I would have had no choice but to reverse back down the lane ( equally risky ), find somewhere to turn round and go back the way I had come.

      At this junction, a simple convex mirror costing £100 to install would eliminate a very substantial accident risk.

      There must be literally millions of examples of small improvements to road junctions that would cut accidents and road deaths.

      The solutions usually tried are the easy ones of reducing the speed limit. This may create more revenue raising opportunities but rarely does anything to reduce accidents.

      That’s how the money should be spent.

    2. Mark
      October 5, 2013

      My first boss after I left university lost his life in the Clapham disaster.

      Railway fatalities (around 300 a year) and major injuries are rather more frequent than you suggest, even if few of them occur while onboard a train these days. Stations are much more dangerous than sitting or standing in trains. The rail industry has managed to keep the facts from the public eye and the interest of journalists. Its use of “weighted injury” statistics, and propensity to exclude suicides on the railway from most of the fatality numbers show a tendency to ignore inconvenient issues that are perhaps harder to tackle.

      1. ChrisS
        October 6, 2013

        I agree with you, Mark but remember that John was focusing on improving passenger safety through expensive changes to coach interiors. Because UK trains are now so safe for passengers, this would be fearsomely expensive and achieve very little.

        The two improvements that would be worth considering would be to eliminate all level crossings and install barriers along every platform with gates that would open only when trains are stationary.

        As long as the railways are in any way subsidised by the State, any money spent on railway safety should be considered as government expenditure. Therefore the only criteria should be whether it would be cost effective in reducing deaths and injuries in a national context.

        The railways are now such a safe means of transport that I suspect no expenditure on improving railway safety in the UK would pass a cost/benefit test.

        Whatever it were to cost, the same amount of money would be more effectively spent elsewhere on the UK transport system.

  34. Martin Price
    October 6, 2013

    I have to agree with (most of) the others and say that your proposals are uncharacteristically wrongheaded, John. With the current densities of human-driven cars on our roads, it is all but inconceivable that we could ever eliminate potentially deadly collisions, so it makes very good sense to use cars that protect pedestrians and occupants in the sadly unremarkable event of a crash. The railways are a completely different story; train crashes in the developed world are already very very rare, and it takes no particular leap of faith to imagine a world (or at least a Britain) in which trains simply do not crash. As you say in response to ChrisS, this is partly because trains occupy their own unique territory, but you do not explain why you think this is an argument to spend huge amounts of money making trains even safer; money which could better be spent elsewhere. The trains will never be on the roads with the other vehicles, and the other vehicles will never be on the tracks with the trains, so the relative unlikelihood of a train accident compared to a car accident is likely to remain (until humans no longer drive cars). Yes, train accidents when they do occur are often very nasty, but their very rareness is responsible for our particular terror of them. The carnage is so awful, the casualties so many and the event so unusual that the media devote undue column inches and hours of reporting to them, demanding that something be done. And when feaerful rail passengers are driven out of the safe embrace of the trains and onto the rather more perilous roads, the media don’t devote nearly enough attention to the accompanying increase in road deaths.

    Reply: But cars do come into possible conflict with trains at the many level crossings around the country

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