It is true that rail travel globally is officially the second safest mode of transport behind the airline industry (Fatalities per billion passenger kilometers – Source: European Union Agency for Railways) but evidence has shown from many major rail incidents that when they do occur that they often result in very large numbers of fatalities and severely injured casualties. This in turn presents meteoric problems for category one and two responders in attending such events often in remote locations or with difficult access to the incidents.
Just in Europe alone there have been a number of significant incidents leading to major loss of life and many of these countries boast well established and well managed railway networks but even in these countries it is clear that the unexpected circumstances still do occur leading to rail disasters and tragic loss of lives.
Globally there have been many high-profile rail incidents a few of which are shown in the table below.
As the table shows, thankfully major incidents such as these do not occur on a regular basis, but it leads to the question – “How do we prepare our response teams for when they do happen?”
Without doubt these types of incidents are probably once in a lifetime for most responders and are they really prepared for what is probably going to be one of the most difficult, testing and hazardous incidents they will ever face in their careers.
The reality is that the majority of rescue services rely on using their skills obtained in dealing with vehicle incidents and then try and apply them to a rail incident when it occurs. The fact is they are VERY different types of incidents with high degrees of rescue complexity, large numbers of casualties and significant safety issues for rescuers often in very remote locations. This is why it is essential to plan and prepare from a strategic level all the way to operator level.
As I mentioned previously rail is the second safest mode of transport, but you must always consider the unexpected. For example, the Great Heck rail crash which occurred on the 28th February 2001 which was caused by a vehicle running down onto the tracks and leading to a major derailment of a passenger train which killed 10 and injured a further 82 people. This type of incident can happen anywhere and at anytime globally.
As a serving officer in the fire service for 30 years I was fortunate enough not to have attended a major rail incident personally but I am also acutely aware that there are ‘very limited’ locations and meaningful learning opportunities for rescue responders to carry out meaningful and realistic training in order to prepare for events such as these when they arise. Incidents such as Grayrigg in 2007 certainly highlight that passenger carriages do not always come to rest on the tracks and that rescue is often hampered by casualties in carriages which have come to rest in all manner of positions and will require a coordinated multi agency approach utilising knowledge, skills and equipment from all agencies.
“Incidents such as these will certainly test responders to the extreme!”
The hazards and risks associated with rail incidents are certainly elevated compared to road based incidents due to a number of factors such as the size and weight of carriages, the large numbers of passengers, the huge quantities of cargo (sometimes hazardous) and very often the difficulties in accessing the incident. It is certainly true to say that first responders on scene will certainly be overwhelmed with the numbers of wounded at a major passenger rail derailment and high levels of command and control will be required quickly to bring order to the chaos.
There have been a number of cases globally where ‘High speed’ rail incidents have caused devastation and led to significant loss of life and also major freight incidents which have been compounded due to the nature of the cargo it has been carrying leading to severe environmental issues and even loss of life of rescuers.
Many of us will have often seen incidents like this on the news and thought to ourselves what we would do if we ever attended incidents such as these and kept our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t ever have to deal with such horrific scenes. It is clear that whilst many will have developed their command and control training for such events where do the rescue crews get their practical hands on training for events such as these. For example, bringing a severely injured casualty out of a carriage which is resting at 45 degrees and 30’ in the air.
“That is why at IRRTC we have developed a rail rescue training site because have identified the lack of training facilities globally in carrying out this essential lifesaving training”.
This will allow rescuers to deal with a full-size passenger rail derailment and be faced with realistic and testing scenarios which will test even the most experienced medical and technical rescue teams.
Global development projects:
There are many countries continuing to develop their rail network infrastructures such as the United Kingdom’s HS2 project and the new Gulf railway (GCC) which will link all six member states in the Persian gulf and stretch 2177km.The GCC is estimated to cost $250 billion dollars and be completed in 2023/24.
This section of rail infrastructure is just part of a wider development across the whole emirate’s region which will see over 6000km of rail eventually moving billions of tons of freight and millions of passengers each year.
With investment and scale at this level it is imperative that emergency response is a key consideration during the planning stages of the project for when a major incident occurs (and history shows us it will at some point) and that responders are suitably trained and equipped for safely dealing with an incident on such a large scale and incident command teams are also prepared for dealing with the multi-agency logistics, response and resource requirements that will be required to effectively manage the incident through to conclusion.
The fact remains that no matter what safety measures are put in place by the network rail operators that major incidents will occur periodically in all countries. Therefore, if we know it is going to happen then how do we prepare our response teams for dealing with these future catastrophes?
I hope you have found this article thought provoking and you consider how prepared you are should an incident like this take place in your country or district.
For more information, go to IRRTCrescue.com