30 January 2007

If you don't like our trains, don't board them

Two items about rail safety.

The Metro reports that the UK Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) , the body which is responsible for safety on trains, claims that overcrowded trains are safer:

An ORR spokesman told the Standard: “Research in the late Nineties... found that where there was a crowded or overcrowded train carriage there was no detrimental effect to people involved in crashes. In a lot of cases people were better off in train carriages where there was overcrowding.” A spokesman added that the ORR had no say in setting the number of carriages on trains or the level of service. “Service levels are set by the Department for Transport,” he said. “We are the safety regulator for the industry. However, there is no legal limit on the number of passengers that can travel in any given train. There is no safety law regarding the maximum number of people in a train carriage.” MPs were stunned by the ORR stance, particularly by seeming to defend overcrowding on the basis that it may protect passengers.

This was followed by advice to a passenger from one rail company: if you don't like packed trains, get off.

Tony Richards complained to First Great Western about his nightmare journey on a packed train from Reading to Penzance in Cornwall. He said: 'We were shoulder to shoulder and you could not move an arm. There was a lady with three young children, a suitcase and a buggy. She ended up holding one child. Another child was sitting on someone's suitcase and her third child was on the lap of a stranger.'

Customer service adviser Calvin Abelar responded by e-mail, saying: 'If a passenger boards an already crowded service, they are in effect saying to First Great Western that they agree to travel in those conditions. 'Ultimately, if a passenger feels the travelling conditions pose a safety risk, then the responsibility lies with the passenger. As well as First Great Western maintaining a responsibility to ensure safe travel, each passenger must use their personal discretion.' But rail watchdog Passenger Focus said: 'Passengers often don't have a choice about when they can travel so can't simply get off.'

Closer to home The Age reports that some of the most sophisticated class of train in the Melbourne suburban fleet have been withdrawn because they have failed simple brake tests:

One of the most sophisticated passenger trains in the Melbourne fleet has failed the simplest of tests.On Saturday a Siemens train could not stop when soapy water was poured on the tracks in a test to try to solve a braking problem that has crippled 31 Siemens trains. Even after the driver pulled the emergency brakes and pushed the emergency stop button, the train would not stop.So he pulled the key from the train's ignition, which caused the train's computer system to shut down and activate the park brake...Now almost half the troubled Siemens fleet have been withdrawn, forcing Connex to cancel almost 40 peak-hour services a day. Over the past fortnight another seven trains have been removed, bringing the total number of trains out to 31.

The Age

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