SBB workers maintain tracks, source: SBB

ERA safety report: no progress in reducing railway workers casualties since 2014

With 1,552 significant accidents and 824 fatalities (suicides excluded), according to the European Union Agency of Railways (ERA) the year 2019 was the safest year in the European railway system ever. But despite an overall decrease in significant accidents, the decrease of ‘internal’ accidents is stagnating. For instance no progress can be seen in reducing railway workers casualties. Each year, close to 30 fatalities are reported among railway workers.

The recently published 2019 data confirm an overall decreasing evolution at the EU level. Specifically, both significant accidents and resulting fatalities were decreasing by 4 percent annually on average during the 2010’s. With 1,552 significant accidents and 824 fatalities (suicides excluded), the year 2019 was the safest year ever. However, this YoY reduction was largely driven by the drop in accidents to persons and resulting fatalities by 16 percent. Besides, the overall toll of railway accidents remains high: the significant accidents alone represent the economic costs of about 3.5 million Euro per annum.

Internal accidents

Behind the overall positive trends are the realities requiring attention of both the railway sector and policy makers, says ERA. Despite an overall decrease in significant accidents since 2010, the ‘internal’ accidents like collisions, derailments and fires in rolling stock, are stagnating. The progress has also been very uneven across the EU Member States, with the variance in safety levels remaining high. Remarkably, the speed of convergence of safety levels has lessened and safety performance of MSs no longer converges since 2016.

Good results achieved in reducing third party fatalities (trespassers and suicides) came along with a similar reduction in suicide mortality rates and cannot therefore be fully attributed to the work done by the railway infrastructure managers.

No progress can be seen in reducing railway workers casualties since 2014, if looking at absolute figures. Each year, close to 30 fatalities are reported among railway workers. Moreover, some 60 workers are seriously injured each year. However, the fatality rate (casualties per traffic volume) shows a decreasing trend since 2014, which is however less pronounced for employees than for passengers.

Level crossings

Safety at level crossings has been improving in the past decade: the annual average reduction over the period 2010-2018 has been 3 percent for accidents, 4 percent for fatalities. Over the same period, the reduction was higher in other types of railway accidents and resulting fatalities and lower in other types of road accidents and resulting fatalities. Notably it appears that a slower pace of improvements in road safety (compared to rail safety) impacts the progress in improving level crossing safety levels.

One of the main drivers of disparities in safety levels seems to be the level of safety of the railway infrastructure: the share of deployment of advanced train protection systems and rail-side protected level crossing devices vary greatly across Europe. The latter comes on top of the differences in terms of density of level crossings in general, and other structural factors inherently increasing the likelihood of an accident like the share of single track lines and the density of switches for instance.

Rail safety climate survey

According to the agency the accident investigation report highlights the potential for further safety improvements. To gain more knowledge about safety perception by rail professionals ERA will launch a large-scale survey in June next year about safety perception of all rail professionals in Europe: the European Rail Safety Climate Survey (ERSCS). The survey targets every railway employee in the European sector including rail companies,
manufacturers, public institutions and rail-related organisations. The global results of the ERSCS will be used to improve safety in the Single European Railway Area and serve as reference for future policies.

Author: Paul van den Bogaard

Paul van den Bogaard is editor of SpoorPro, a sister title of RailTech

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