Safest Place on a Train

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Inversnecky

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I’ve been listening to the excellent Signals to Danger podcast, which I can highly recommend.

But it got me wondering, in an accident, statistically, which is the safest place for a passenger to be in a train?

So many of the accidents involve front and rear collisions, which would put those near the top of the list, but the middle sections are not immune too, from a sideways hit.

Of course, railways are about the safest way to travel, but the stories recounted in the podcast, and reading about others, couldn’t help but make me consider this question.
 
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In the middle of the middle carriage, facing backwards so that one is less likely to go flying when the train suddenly stops

Which deck is safer on a double-decker?
 

Mag_seven

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Surely all areas of a train have to be deemed to be "equally safe" in order for it to be allowed to operate?
 

bramling

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I’ve been listening to the excellent Signals to Danger podcast, which I can highly recommend.

But it got me wondering, in an accident, statistically, which is the safest place for a passenger to be in a train?

So many of the accidents involve front and rear collisions, which would put those near the top of the list, but the middle sections are not immune too, from a sideways hit.

Of course, railways are about the safest way to travel, but the stories recounted in the podcast, and reading about others, couldn’t help but make me consider this question.

If one goes by recent collisions, one is probably slightly less safe at the front. Clapham Junction, Purley, Cowden, Newton, Southall, Watford Junction, Ladbroke Grove, Ufton, Grayrigg and Stonehaven all fared slightly worse for people at the front. By contrast, only Potters Bar and (for one of the trains) Clapham Junction really affected the back of the train.

But I agree with the view that it’s not really worth worrying about.
 

greyman42

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If one goes by recent collisions, one is probably slightly less safe at the front. Clapham Junction, Purley, Cowden, Newton, Southall, Watford Junction, Ladbroke Grove, Ufton, Grayrigg and Stonehaven all fared slightly worse for people at the front. By contrast, only Potters Bar and (for one of the trains) Clapham Junction really affected the back of the train.

But I agree with the view that it’s not really worth worrying about.
I think Hatfield was worse for the rear carriages?
 

Bessie

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You're safer on the train than the walk or drive to the station.
 

bramling

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I think Hatfield was worse for the rear carriages?

Middle I think, ISTR it was the buffet which came off worst, so that would have been something like vehicle 5 out of 8 I think.

One other point which springs to mind, walk-through trains aren’t going to perform well in a violent high-speed collision. It’s one thing crawling about on something like a LO 378, but something like Potters Bar would have been bad. Again, debatable whether it’s worth worrying about though.
 

Mikey C

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On planes, isn't it safer at the rear on the grounds that planes don't reverse into mountains!

I imagine sitting backwards is safer, especially in "airline" seats on trains, as you won't be flung forward into the back of the seat in front of you. Indeed a rearwards seat at the far front of the carriage would probably be safer from debris flying through the carriage too.
 

Mak1981

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In the middle of the middle carriage, facing backwards so that one is less likely to go flying when the train suddenly stops

Which deck is safer on a double-decker?

On the lower deck and standing is as far as I know the safest, in a crash on bus with so many hard surfaces I believe standing passengers actually fare better than sitting due to the ergonomics of falling
 

AM9

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Middle I think, ISTR it was the buffet which came off worst, so that would have been something like vehicle 5 out of 8 I think.

One other point which springs to mind, walk-through trains aren’t going to perform well in a violent high-speed collision. It’s one thing crawling about on something like a LO 378, but something like Potters Bar would have been bad. Again, debatable whether it’s worth worrying about though.
This gets brought up every few months, but no evidence has been posted anywhere. I can understand the presumption that open wide gangway stock might be more of a problem in a fast in-line collision, but they have been used elsewhere in Europe for many years and no safety related reports seem to have mentioned that configuration as making things worse. The fact is that even if a passenger coach has a very high deceleration, enough to cause failure of the vehicle structure, I doubt that a standing person would go much more than a few metres (<10) before they were on the floor, and certainly not airborne sailing from coach to coach. Those seated wouldn't travel any further than the next seat as most seats in UK designs face the centre of the coach unless they are in a bay. If you are thinking of the Siemens Desiro City designs, the consequences of passengers being thrown forward and the first few maybe going through the gangway before gravity put them to the floor, that would probably be no worse in terms of total injuries than would be for the same passengers colliding into the end wall of a closed gangway vehicle.
 

bramling

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This gets brought up every few months, but no evidence has been posted anywhere. I can understand the presumption that open wide gangway stock might be more of a problem in a fast in-line collision, but they have been used elsewhere in Europe for many years and no safety related reports seem to have mentioned that configuration as making things worse. The fact is that even if a passenger coach has a very high deceleration, enough to cause failure of the vehicle structure, I doubt that a standing person would go much more than a few metres (<10) before they were on the floor, and certainly not airborne sailing from coach to coach. Those seated wouldn't travel any further than the next seat as most seats in UK designs face the centre of the coach unless they are in a bay. If you are thinking of the Siemens Desiro City designs, the consequences of passengers being thrown forward and the first few maybe going through the gangway before gravity put them to the floor, that would probably be no worse in terms of total injuries than would be for the same passengers colliding into the end wall of a closed gangway vehicle.

I’m thinking more that one of the biggest hazards in any serious accident is people being ejected from the containment of their carriage. Recent incidents have tended to result in this, in practice, revolving around strength of window glass. However as we haven’t yet had an accident involving a walk-through train, it’s hard to see how the design could be considered to compare equally let alone favourably with a vehicle which has a traditional end.

Any accident involving a heavily loaded train, potentially with people standing at the vehicle ends or even between the vehicles, is likely to result in serious consequences which might not otherwise have happened.

Another aspect with makes the design unsatisfactory is the potential for objects to enter the vehicles through this open space. OHLE components in particular would be a serious hazard.
 

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Walk-through train, that is a new term to me. Seems to mean a set where one may walk and see right through, joins between carriages are almost full-width, no doors between. I have travelled on some actually.

I think there is really no single right answer to the question because one does not know what sort of 'accident' might occur. Most likely none at all in a million miles, a good reason to love train travel.
 
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The train crash I was in the casualties were at the front. This doesn't stop me taking a seat near the front.
 

philthetube

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I suspect that the most dangerous place to be is forward facing at a table, further to travel in the case of a sudden stop, ending up folded in half over the table and either smashing your face on it or with severe whiplash as your head overhangs it.
 

ainsworth74

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On planes, isn't it safer at the rear on the grounds that planes don't reverse into mountains!
Yes there's definitely a trend in the stats (or I least I'm under the impression that there is) which suggests that the further back you are the more likely, in an accident where there are survivors, to survive. It usually boils down to that the front is the bit that hits the ground/runway/mountain first and so absorbs the most energy whilst the rear benefits from a slightly reduced impact (the overall effect might be tiny but in accidents it can make all the difference!).
I imagine sitting backwards is safer, especially in "airline" seats on trains, as you won't be flung forward into the back of the seat in front of you. Indeed a rearwards seat at the far front of the carriage would probably be safer from debris flying through the carriage too.
I think the Germans confirmed that one after Eschede (an extremely violent derailment at well over 100mph) as I'm sure it was that accident where those who were the least injured had been people facing backwards to the direction of travel.
Which is usually where the driver sits :( ...
Depends on what train you're driving! The HST in your profile picture then yeah you're not really protected, the IET that smashed into it however the cab is designed to offer the driver significant protection. I seem to recall there's a very interesting picture of a 222 somewhere or other missing it's nose cone and you can see the massive steel structure designed around the cab. I would figure anything designed or built since the late 90s probably offers the driver much more significant protection.

Aha! I've found the image I was thinking of:

cab.png

Credit to @HiPa_IC125_ on twitter for the image.

(Image shows the front of a 222 with the plastic surround missing therefore clearly exposing significant steelwork protecting the driver including two beams running diagonally up each side and one running across at the front around desk height linking the two)
 
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GRALISTAIR

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You're safer on the train than the walk or drive to the station.
Absolutely well said. Similarly, when I fly across the Atlantic I am more concerned about my car journey on M56, 60, 61, 6 back to Preston than the plane. Most definitely the case even more so on the train. Pre Covid great service too from Manchester Airport to Preston on the train.
 

Roast Veg

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Depends on what train you're driving! The HST in your profile picture then yeah you're not really protected, the IET that smashed into it however the cab is designed to offer the driver significant protection. I seem to recall there's a very interesting picture of a 222 somewhere or other missing it's nose cone and you can see the massive steel structure designed around the cab. I would figure anything designed or built since the late 90s probably offers the driver much more significant protection.
And the 222s don't even meet the latest standards that new build stock has to meet, do they?
 

swt_passenger

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No - there are designated “crumple zones” on some trains.
All trains, I think, although operating speed dependent. Just that some, (eg 220/221), were completely overspecced in terms of “passenger free” areas for a short period before the standards were made more realistic...
 

6Gman

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Theoretically I imagine that sitting on the offside is more dangerous than sitting on the nearside - more chance of hitting something coming the other way. But, of course, in OHLE land there's more risk of hitting the metalwork on the nearside.

My usual preference is offside, facing, with a table. It's not that I'm a risk-taker; it's just that the risk is so slight that I'm not prepared to compromise my personal preference.
 

43066

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Depends on what train you're driving! The HST in your profile picture then yeah you're not really protected, the IET that smashed into it however the cab is designed to offer the driver significant protection. I seem to recall there's a very interesting picture of a 222 somewhere or other missing it's nose cone and you can see the massive steel structure designed around the cab. I would figure anything designed or built since the late 90s probably offers the driver much more significant protection.

Aha! I've found the image I was thinking of:

I was attempting to be a little funny earlier (which is usually my downfall on here), but it’s true! Drivers who sit at the front of the voyager family are in the crumple zone (there’s even a sign that states “no more than one member of staff beyond this point” at the forward most set of internal doors). As I was told during my traction course, “if you’re in a collision at 100mph (and slower), you’re mincemeat anyway”. Which is probably true.

But it’s not something any of us give a second thought to. Good grief, any driver who worries about that needs to consider their approach to risk, and probably think about doing a different job. We’re far more likely to be killed in a car crash on the way to work!
 

37057

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Some types of unit have the benefit of the cab backwall doors opening automatically when the emergency brake 'plunger' is pressed for an imminent escape!
 

XAM2175

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All trains, I think, although operating speed dependent. Just that some, (eg 220/221), were completely overspecced in terms of “passenger free” areas for a short period before the standards were made more realistic...
Was it not the case that even earlier-on the regulations didn't allow for any passengers to be carried in the first vehicle of high-speed sets? I seem to recall that that's the reason for the Mk 4 sets having DVTs rather than DBSOs (or whatever, you know what I mean).

I would figure anything designed or built since the late 90s probably offers the driver much more significant protection.
And the 222s don't even meet the latest standards that new build stock has to meet, do they?
Yes, the standards have moved on yet more - so much so that the additional Pendolino vehicles ordered after Grayrigg had to receive special dispensation.

A more recent demonstration of the safety of driver's cabs (through, granted, of standards that are somewhat different) is the Point Defiant Bypass derailment in the US in 2017, in which the leading locomotive was a virtually-brand-new Siemens SC-44.

A similar model shown here during construction:


(image showing a the frame of a Siemens SC-44 locomotive, including the outer pillars of the upper part of the cab, central collision posts, and floor-level anticlimber. Source.)

And here after the derailment, where the train entered a 30 mph curve at approximately 80 mph:


(image showing the locomotive upright on the ground, with significant damage to the front, right-hand side, and roof, but critically no structural deformation of the cab area. Source.)
 

Bald Rick

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I know someone who has had the misfortune to be in two train accidents - one a high speed derailment, the other a high speed collision. In the former, he was in the rear coaches, and it was those that derailed. In the latter he was in the front, and it was those that came off worse.

I imagine that the safest place on a train is the seat next to him, because he would have to be extraordinarily unlucky to be in the worst part of the train involved in yet another incident!
 

swt_passenger

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Was it not the case that even earlier-on the regulations didn't allow for any passengers to be carried in the first vehicle of high-speed sets? I seem to recall that that's the reason for the Mk 4 sets having DVTs rather than DBSOs (or whatever, you know what I mean).
I think so, yes, that was the case in the years just prior to the Voyager and Pendolino. The repercussions of the Polmont derailment. Probably why the 22x and 390 were specced so cautiously, then the standards gradually changed afterwards.
 
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43066

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I know someone who has had the misfortune to be in two train accidents - one a high speed derailment, the other a high speed collision.

Seriously? Statistically that’s absolutely extraordinary.

Does this guy have any suggestions for the lottery numbers?
 
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