In October 2006, I had the privilege of joining the ENO Foundation's International Transit Studies Program. Our mission was the study of "Rail Passenger Safety: Equipment and Technologies." I joined a team of 14 public transportation professionals as we toured Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The tour's agenda was comprehensive, and we met with government officials and transportation managers at German Railways Deutsche Bahn, French Railways SNCF, Paris Metro RATP, Transport of London, and engineers and designers at FAV Berlin/TSB, the Technical University of Berlin, Bombardier, Siemens Transportation, ALSTOM, DeltaRail Group and the British Rail Standards & Standards Board (RSSB).
During our study mission, our team learned a great deal from our European hosts about rail safety efforts that are being undertaken within the European Union (EU). Our team members were given the opportunity to ask frank and pointed questions about their undertakings, and to share our experiences about current efforts being undertaken within the United States to improve rail passenger safety. My particular focus during the trip was rail vehicle design characteristics. I learned a great deal about the overall efforts of EU transportation officials to enhance rail vehicle safety. Most importantly, during the trip I was given a firsthand look at actual design work and vehicle testing that is being conducted by rail car and locomotive manufacturers in Europe. In this article, I would like to make comparisons between the activities of our European colleagues and our similar efforts in the United States with regards to rail vehicle safety design enhancements.
Before I proceed with specifics regarding design issues, I would like to make an overall comparison of safety plans within the EU and the United States. In January 2006, the FRA implemented its National Rail Safety Action Plan in the United States. The highlights of this plan include reducing human factors accidents, operator fatigue, enhancing emergency response and the enhancement of rail car and locomotive designs, primarily the incorporation of crash energy management (CEM) designs into vehicles. The European focus upon safety is following a similar track. Within the EU, the European Railway Agency is overseeing the development of a truly integrated international railway system throughout the EU. As part of their common transport policy, members of the EU have adopted legislation that will guarantee standards of safety for the European railway system. Through this legislation, interoperability directives have been developed, which mandate a number of essential requirements to be met for interoperability. These include the elements of safety, reliability and availability of equipment, as well as the technical compatibility of rolling stock, their associated components and sub-components.
EU transportation officials stress that safety integration throughout Europe is critical. This is particularly the case regarding the design standards of railroad locomotives and coaches, heavy rail and light rail vehicles. They therefore established a philosophy that current safety standards from railroads in Germany, France, the U.K. and other European nations had to be, at the least, "maintained" at an acceptable standard level of safety during this change process. Through the efforts of all parties involved, overall safety standards will gradually improve as integration becomes a reality.
In the United States, the FRA's top priority is the prevention and reduction of accidents, particularly the reduction of human factors related accidents. In the event of an accident, FRA is looking to mitigate the consequences, specifically a prevention and reduction of injuries within rail cars. During the study mission, our team learned that EU officials have also developed programs that focus upon prevention and mitigation. EU engineers have categorized these critical safety variables into two components, "active safety" and "passive safety." They discussed the importance of both.