Many researchers uphold trains as the safest means of transportation, compared to cars, planes and boats.
The development of rail technology has increased a lot in the last thirty years, but digitalisation has recently been playing a leading role, changing the approach of railway operators and governments even towards safety, which is ensured by modern and integrated systems, cyber-attack prevention and constant investments in rolling stock and infrastructure modernisation.
The safety level of the Union railway system is one of the highest worldwide. In multi-modal comparisons, rail regularly stands out as the safest mode of land transport in the EU, with the fatality rate for passengers gradually approaching that of aircrafts. The safety level in terms of fatal accident rates has also improved continuously since 1990, with an average annual reduction of more than 5%.
The railway community works continuously to improve railway safety, often calling on the support of digitalisation technologies. Although railways still have not implemented a systematic and comprehensive EU-wide safety occurrence reporting scheme, several areas in which safety has been stagnating recently- such as level crossing and railway workers safety, or rolling stock fires- would greatly benefit from wider information sharing. The ongoing digital revolution offers both inspiration and potential solutions, defining a strong commitment to enhancing railway safety with the rigorous application of a robust Safety Management System and the implementation of a positive railway safety culture.
Modern systems should be designed as a barrier to human error. The principle should be that no single human error can cause an accident. The higher the traffic density and speed of the train is, the more advanced the technical support systems must be. In a modern environment, an automatic train can count on protection systems such as speed controls preventing the train from passing warning signals and from reaching dangerous speeds. It is important to underline that more advanced technical barrier systems do not imply that training levels can be reduced. On the contrary, training needs to change focus and be improved.
Ensuring that railways remain a safe workplace for those employed by the industry is clearly a mission that requires commitment, investments, and awareness. Digitalisation is a concrete help to prevent fatal injuries, improve planning, monitoring and managing what happens on the field, identifying and mitigating risks on the tracks thanks to real-time visibility of what happens in the surrounding area.
Current technologies enable teams of workers active on the network to upload their activities and segments of track affected onto a tablet computer making maintenance safer, also thanks to tools for double -checking information accuracy and electronic document archiving.
One of the main drivers of disparities in safety levels seems to be 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 structural factors that inherently increase the likelihood of an accident (share of single-track lines, density of switches, etc.). In addition to the tangible differences among systems and regulations, cyber threats represent a new challenge, requiring significant investments in cybersecurity. It is fundamental to ensure that system design is flexible and intelligent enough to constantly adapt to new threats to develop and accommodate new security levels and tools.
This article was originally published by Fincons Group.
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