It is true that rail travel globally is officially the second safest mode of transport behind the airline industry (fatalities per billion passenger kilometres – Source: European Union Agency for Railways), but evidence from many major rail incidents has shown that when they do occur 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 unexpected circumstances still do occur, leading to rail disasters and the 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 so 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 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 28 February 2001, was caused by a vehicle running down onto the tracks, leading to a major derailment of a passenger train that killed 10 and injured a further 82 people. This type of incident can happen anywhere and at any time 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 Stonehaven in 2020 certainly highlight that passenger carriages do not always come to rest on the tracks and that rescue is often hampered by casualties in carriages that have come to rest in all manner of positions and will require a coordinated multi-agency approach utilizing 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 the first responders on scene will be overwhelmed with the numbers of wounded at a major passenger-train 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 being carried, leading to severe environmental issues and even loss of life of rescuers.
Many of us have will have seen incidents like this on the news and wondered 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. 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° and 30ft in the air.
That is why at IRRTC we are currently developing a rail rescue programme: because we have identified a lack of training facilities globally for carrying out this essential lifesaving training.
There are many incidents in the rail industry that have led to significant loss of life and injury, but what is clear to us, and I’m sure to many of those reading this article, is that there are limited opportunities to practise the necessary skills involved in carrying out effective rail-rescue training.
In a major rail incident rescuers may be required to utilize a wide range of their skills in the following areas:
- Rope access and egress
- Confined-space rescue
- Lifting and moving heavy loads
- Rail hazard management
- Hot cutting operations
- Space creation both externally and internally on rail carriages
- Casualty triage, treatment and transportation
- Stabilization, lifting and cribbing
- Scene safety and management
- Resource management and Command and Control
The above list clearly identifies why it is not an effective approach just to rely on existing training regimes, and it is imperative to ensure that responders are suitably trained and equipped for safely when dealing with an incident on such a large scale, which could occur in a remote rural location or even the centre of a populated area.
The fact remains that no matter what safety measures are put in place by the network operators 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 it helps you to consider how prepared you are should an incident like this take place in your area.
If you would like to find out more on this issue and how we can help you prepare, please feel free to contact us at enquiries@IRRTCrescue.com.
For more information, go to IRRTCrescue.com