We always assume that rail is the safest mode of transport, and it still is. A fatal accident in Grayrigg, North West England which happened a decade ago, was the last time a passenger died in a train accident scenario such as a derailment or collision. In comparison, five people die on Britain’s roads every day. The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) have announced that this is “unprecedented ” in UK rail history. A detailed analysis was carried out by the independent not-for-profit organisation to show that rail passengers are safer now with train accident fatality risk falling 87% since the year 2000. With the technological improvement on our tracks, trains passing red signals are at an all-time low. RSSB has also looked at incidents which have most potential to turn into more serious accidents including trains striking objects and derailments, and these too are falling, with just 17 incidents in 2016 compared to 45 in 2007. Without a major accident, it has been easier for the industry to maintain constant scrutiny and analysis of data and sustain a focus on where risk needs to be managed, such as at level crossings and the platform-train interface on stations.
RSSB ( @ ) was established in 2003 after a public enquiry had been made into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in London. The tragedy occurred in 1999 when 31 people were killed and another 520 had been injured. After the enquiry had been carried out, it became apparent that the crash could have been prevented by an operational automatic train protection (ATP) system which had been rejected due to cost factors. RSSB is owned by rail industry stakeholders, including Network Rail, infrastructure managers, train operators and rolling stock companies. Their work influences other regulatory bodies such as: The Office of Rail and Road, Network Rail and The Association of Train Operating Companies.
Since then, a significant number of lives have been saved thanks to the research and work of the RSSB. Their Director of System Safety, George Bearfield said, “By remaining vigilant and avoiding complacency, the railways have maintained a methodical and targeted approach to managing risk and improving safety. Stronger trains, better signalling and protection, and day-to-day dedication of rail staff have all played their part too.”
Lives were also saved 10 years ago at Grayrigg thanks to the train’s crashworthiness and the use of laminated glass in the windows. Research shows these prevent people from being ejected from the train. The derailment was caused by a "degraded and unsafe" set of points, which a Network Rail track maintenance manager had forgotten to check. David Lewis, from Preston, told an inquest that he had previously flagged up safety concerns, telling his bosses that his team was under-staffed, with workers not given the right tools or enough time to carry out checks as reported by BBC News.
The scheduled inspection on 18 February 2007 had not taken place and the faults had gone undetected. Although the accident killed far fewer people than some other accidents on the West Coast Main Line, it had a major negative impact on Network Rail's safety record.
*Risk from signals passed at danger:
Bearfield also commented that: "Train accidents have a tragic impact on passengers, rail staff, and their families – the derailment at Grayrigg resulted in tragedy for the family of Margaret Masson who died. It also required heroism from rail staff, emergency services and the local community in the aftermath. Our thoughts are with them as much as they are with the progress we’ve made as an industry in the intervening period.”
*Train accidents with passenger or workforce fatalities:
In a final comment, the director of system safety stressed that the "unprecedented 10-year respite does not, of course, mean that train accidents are consigned to history." There is always a possibility that train accidents can occur and they aren't completely unavoidable. "We have seen major accidents overseas in recent months, and also the major tram incident in Croydon in November last year. The railways’ safety performance is maintained through continual learning and industry is ready to learn any relevant transferable lessons for the mainline railway in Britain."
*Data has been provided by RSSB
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