Thursday 30 June 2011

Trouble On The Trains

There is a nasty accident waiting to happen. It is on the railways and it has been only a matter of luck that it has not already occurred. It is nothing to do with tracks or signals or normal running.

It is in the design and equipment of many trains now in use and what might happen. One reason why it has been avoided is that there have already been cases of passengers smashing their way out of carriages. The stories have been slanted to suggest that they have been foolish or impatient.

The new stock with its air conditioning systems, fully enclosed carriages with windows that cannot be opened and doors that lock shut all depend on the power available. What has happened recently is that trains have come to a halt and the power is shut off or has failed.

At most times of the year this would be a nuisance which may give rise to discomfort of one sort or another. In the London Underground even at cool times of the year a train stuck in a tunnel can became very uncomfortable.

At times when it is very hot and the train is either in a confined space which heats rapidly or out in open hot sun then the conditions in the carriages can deteriorate quickly. The carriages can literally become ovens.

The latest occurrence was on South Eastern Railways Dartford line. A train breakdown and South Eastern’s typical lack of ability to sort out the traffic or deal with it resulted in trains being held for hours without power or ventilation. Passengers then smashed the doors open and detrained.

Because of the media’s obsession that heat is good there is no mention of the risk that had the passengers not done so then there could have been a real threat to life. How many in the train were vulnerable to excessive heat? How many could have suffered real damage had the situation continued?

One trouble is that the RAIB which deals with safety etc. rather than the HSE are strong on the technical side but not so keen on messy passenger affairs. Having people on the trains interferes with their smooth running and the meeting of targets.

So South Eastern can get away with sending ambulances to wrong locations, not having first aid kits available and not bothering with tiresome accident reporting procedures.

There have been other reports of passengers elsewhere having to take their own action here and there but the prevailing attitude is unsympathetic, the authorities more or less claiming that they should sit and suffer until all the blunders and errors have been dealt with.

One problem is that there are cases of passenger foolishness that has had serious and sometimes fatal consequences so it is easy for the authorities to suggest that all the incidents are for these reasons.

But they are not, just how long will it be before a disaster occurs in a train that has been left without aid in overheated conditions?

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