05 June 2009

Mind the gap!

The Rail Safety Standard Board has recently released data for the rail industry covering 2008. The first paragraph starts "Against a backdrop of increased passenger numbers and freight traffic using the railways...." as if to justify statistics that were merely 'so-so' and not astoundingly improved.

However, to give the rail industry credit, most forms of accidents and deaths have reduced. A summary is given below:
  • No passenger or workforce fatalities for the third year in 4. Note how this is different to the "third consecutive year" on account of the derailment of a Virgin Trains Class 390 'Pendolino' at Grayrigg on 23 February 2007 in which a female passenger died
  • 70 accidental fatalities
  • 422 major injuries
  • 12,308 minor injuries (including shock and trauma)
  • 47 potential high-risk train accidents (including signals past at danger (red))
  • 5 passengers died at stations and in separate incidents (lowest ever - 4 struck by trains and 1 died after a fall on an escalator)
  • 3 workers were killed on the railway
  • 134 major workforce injuries
  • 12 pedestrians died at level crossings (highest number since 1997)
  • 2 occupants of road vehicles were killed at level crossings
  • 209 suicides on railway premises
  • 47 deaths through trespass
  • 9% drop in assault crimes on members of the public since 2007
  • 5% increase in 'harm from assaults on railway staff' - first increase since 2004
  • 10 incidents of major injury (6 in 2007)
  • Minor injuries fell for the 16th successive year
The fact the rail industry can accurately record and collate all these incidents is a testament to its operation. Nothing along this vein exists in the bus and coach industries.

As gruesome as it sounds, for around the past 40 years around 100 annual suicides take place on railway property, generally from a bridge or tunnel portal into the path of an oncoming train, giving the driver little or no chance to react. This number has recently risen by an incredible percentage to the 209 registered for 2008. It's something that needs to be addressed, but how? By what means can you prevent a person from driving to a remote road bridge in the Cotswolds intent on jumping off in front of a passing First Great Western (FGW) train?

Generally those committing suicide only 'hurt' themselves (with the exception of the incident in 2004 at Ufton where a FGW train was derailed as a result). It's not nice for the driver or the emergency services who, in many cases, have to physically scrape the remains off the rails.

Another area in need of attention is that of level crossing misuse. 2008 saw 14 deaths (12 pedestrians and two in a car). This does not show the exponential increase in near-misses. Alone, 12 is the highest number of deaths for over a decade. Clearly, fitting full barriers to all automatic, privately-owned and half-barrier crossings will do the trick, but it all comes down to money! (GWB)