A DB conductor checks passengers during corona

Research Deutsche Bahn: no increased risk corona infection train personnel

According to research by German railway operator Deutsche Bahn and the Charité Research Organization train personnel with a lot of passenger contact do not have a higher chance of infection with the coronavirus. Around 1.100 DB staff was tested for infection with the virus and on antibodies.

The goal of the German research was to get scientific insights about the risk of infections with COVID-19 on trains. The main question was whether there is a difference in infection risks between personnel who have a lot of contact with passengers, such as conductors, and personnel with less contact, such as train drivers.

Around 600 randomly selected train conductors, 200 drivers and 200 train technicians voluntarily took part in the first test phase from June 29 till July 3rd. The same staff from the sample will be tested again at the end of October and in February 2021. The study did not include the infection risks of train passengers.

Contact with passengers

Only one employee tested positive for corona, and twenty staff members turned out to have antibodies in their blood, which indicates that they have been infected with the virus earlier. There was barely a difference between personnel with a lot of passenger contact and staff that have little contact with passengers. Among the conductors the percentage of people with antibodies was even slightly higher than among the train drivers and technicians. According to the research report the results were similar to other epidemiological studies in Germany.

Martin Seiler, director of human resources of Deutsche Bahn: “We currently have the first scientific findings in Germany about corona infections in trains. For us as employers it is important that our staff does not have a higher risk of catching COVID-19. The first results of the study show that our concept of protection and hygiene is effective.” In German trains wearing a mask is obligatory, which is regularly checked by security staff. Also, the train doors open automatically where possible, and surfaces are cleaned more often.

Lockdown

Bertold Huber, member of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn Passenger travel: “We still have to be careful, but we don’t have to worry about travelling by train. Travelling by train is safe and the hygiene measures that the Federal Government and we as DB have taken are effective.

It has to be pointed out that the research was mainly done while Germany was in lockdown. It is questionable if the risk for the employees will stay the same when the trains get busier. This question can presumably be answered after the follow-up of the study.

Masks

Conductors wear a mask the most often of all train personnel, because of the mask obligation in trains. Contrastingly, 80 percent of the train technicians do not wear a mask during work hours. It could therefore be possible that wearing masks explains the low amount of infections among conductors. This would call for wearing a mask during the job, even when employees only have contact with colleagues.

According to the research report “wearing a mask will be central in the hygiene measures, both for staff as for passengers”. It is not clear yet whether Deutsche Bahn will encourage technical staff more to wear a mask.

Infection risk passengers

Research by the University of the English Southampton published in July studied the spread of the coronavirus among train passengers in China. The outcome was that passengers within three rows of a contaminated person have a chance between zero and ten percent of catching the virus. On average, the chance of transmission of the virus with this ‘close contact’ is 0,32 percent. The risk is the largest for people sitting directly next to a person with corona, of which the chance is 3,5 percent. For people in the same row this is 1,5 percent. Merely 0,075 percent of the people who sat on the same chair a person with coronavirus previously sat on also got the virus.

The researchers used advanced models to analyse the data from trains and the infections of passengers. They included people who had COVID-19 during their travel and their close contacts (who showed symptoms within 14 days of their travels). The data consisted of around 2.300 passengers and 72.000 of their close contacts.

Author: Esther Geerts

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