From the general knowledge of our consultants, some of whom have worked in the rail industry for over 30 years, we had anticipated some of the findings but the facts and figures still made thought-provoking reading.
The information was compiled through research involving a long list of rail organisations throughout Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. The sources included railway companies, trade associations, government departments, rail safety bodies, the European Commission and others.
Most People Who Die on the Railway Were Trespassing
It is a common theme internationally, year after year, that by far the majority of all railway fatalities occur as a result of people trespassing, either accidentally or deliberately. Across Europe, in 2006, the number of fatalities peaked for some reason. Over 2000 suicides and 800 accidents were reported involving people who had trespassed on the railway. Deaths on the railway across Europe, not connected with trespassing, brought the total of fatalities to just under 3,800.
The Impact of Fatalities on the Railway
When a death occurs on a railway, it can of course be viewed from a range of perspectives. The main human consequence is always that there has been a tragic loss of life with the inevitable impact on the friends and relatives of the victim. However, our commission required us to consider the problem from the stance of the railway manager which, although appearing somewhat unsympathetic, has to be acknowledged. For the rail operator, the consequences include trauma to railway staff, customers and members of the public; delays caused by Police and emergency service interventions; substitution of staff and rolling stock involved; delays to other trains; sickness absence for staff; and administrative and legal implications.
Anyone despairing of a death on a railway, whether or not from a commercial viewpoint, will, at some point, probably find themselves asking the same question: could it have been prevented?
Why Do People Trespass on the Railway?
People who trespass on the railway typically include those who simply take a chance and cross the tracks; passengers who jump from a moving train – perhaps to avoid a ticket inspector; children and vandals who play on the track; and those who deliberately enter to commit suicide.
It is stating the obvious to say that, wherever the physical structure of the railway makes it easy, deaths are more likely to occur. One example is where the railway track is at ground level and not screened in any way. Most deaths occur away from stations, although the layout of a station complex can result in accidental deaths – for example if the position of a station and level crossing or several tracks converging encourage passengers to cross the lines when running for their train.
Interestingly, we found that, in some regions, trespass on the railway is somehow part of the culture and either not generally recognised by people as constituting a danger or considered worth taking the risk.
In some areas of the Middle East, nomadic people will deliberately enter the railway to spend time - without any on the spot risk assessment - and many other people, who are part of the mainstream society, deliberately drive across a level crossing in the face of an on-coming train without appreciating that it will not stop for them.
In Canada and Australia, it is common for large tankers to cross a railway line without fearing the risk of an approaching high speed train that would have no hope of stopping in time, leading to a major derailment.
In Switzerland, the snow between the rail tracks can be pressed and prove too tempting an opportunity for cross country skiers to resist. Even if the locomotive driver manages to let out a warning signal, the skier may be unable to move sufficiently quickly to avoid being crushed.
What is Being Done to Prevent or Deter Trespassers?
The only way to ensure that trespassing on the railway does not occur is to prevent people from entering the track. Metro systems can of course incorporate sliding platform doors – as they do so successfully - for example, in Singapore - but high line side fencing or screening is expensive and, in large countries with state borders – such as Australia – consistency and effectiveness depends upon coordinated action by governing bodies and rail organisations. In some regions, tunnels and bridges are being constructed to remove the need for – and danger of – level crossings but these initiatives are expensive and may only occur when driven by politics or culture.
Prevention of trespass in the UK is achieved primarily by a combination of line side fencing, signs and education of young people, the latter of which is advanced through national initiatives supported by leading organisations, including the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), Network Rail and the British Transport Police.
Trackoff is an educational website (www.trackoff.org), owned and funded by RSSB, aiming to provide railway safety educational resources to schools and organisations working with children and young people in the classroom, through the National Curriculum. Another national programme, developed by RSSB, is MusicTraX, exploiting the key role that music plays in the lives of young people, offering competitions and events, whilst conveying key railway safety themes.
Network Rail also makes a significant contribution by running the ‘No Messin!’ diversionary programme of activities for children each summer in UK railway crime hotspot areas (www.no-messin.com )
Other worldwide initiatives range from policies requiring the simple tooting of the horn and flashing of lights by the train driver to sophisticated surveillance camera and detection equipment.
The Way Forward for Trespasser Management on the Railway
Railway operators in some countries take the view that if a trespasser is killed on the railway, well, that’s life. However, it is also death and a death that comes at a cost. Sadly, the problem is likely to remain and there is no single, bright shining answer. In most cases, common sense, pragmatism and the drip feed of deterrent, preventative and educational measures, usually forming part of a comprehensive community safety strategy, will be the only way forward.
This article was compiled by Touchstone Renard’s Metro and Rail Team, providing a brief glimpse of the review that was carried out. If you would like to find out more about the comprehensive range of solutions to management issues that Touchstone Renard can provide to private and public sector organisations in the UK and worldwide, please contact us.
Within the transport sector, Touchstone Renard has delivered hundreds of assignments for clients across the Rail and Metro market place. These vary from compliance driven aspects, for example, assurance, safety and risk management; to performance driven issues, including lean six sigma, business intelligence and change realisation.
For Further Information ...
- Phil Austin, Touchstone Renard Limited, London office: 120 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA, United Kingdom.
- Tel: +44 (0)207 101 0788.