Reducing the harm in rail crashes : analysis of injury mechanisms and mitigation strategies
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Reducing the harm in rail crashes : analysis of injury mechanisms and mitigation strategies

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  • Alternative Title:
    Proceedings of the ASME IEEE ASCE 2016 Joint Rail Conference
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  • Abstract:
    Twenty-three commuter and inter-city passenger train

    accidents, which occurred over the past twenty years, have been

    analyzed. The analysis has assessed the potential effectiveness

    of various injury mitigation strategies. The strategies with the

    greatest potential to increase passenger safety are interior

    occupant protection, coupler integrity, end structure integrity,

    side structure integrity, and glazing system integrity. We

    recommend that these strategies be researched further.

    Three types of accidents were analyzed: train-to-train

    collisions, derailments, and grade-crossing collisions. Train-totrain

    collisions include the commuter train-freight train collision

    in Chatsworth, California on September 12, 2008. In Chatsworth

    a commuter train collided with a freight train at a closing speed

    of ~80 mph, fatally injuring twenty-five people and injuring

    more than 100 others. Derailments include the commuter train

    derailment in Spuyten Duyvil, New York on December 1, 2013,

    fatally injuring four people and injuring more than fifty others.

    Grade-crossing accidents include the commuter-SUV collision

    in Valhalla, New York on February 3, 2015, which resulted in six

    fatally injured people, including the SUV driver, and thirteen

    severely injured people.

    Four categories of mitigation strategies were considered:

    train crashworthiness, wayside structure crashworthiness, fire

    safety, and emergency preparedness. Within each of these

    categories are equipment features, which may potentially be

    modified to further mitigate injuries. The features are simple

    noun phrases, e.g., “floor strength,” implying that the floor

    strength should be increased. Train crashworthiness includes

    features such as end strength, floor strength, coupler separation,

    and numerous others. Wayside structure crashworthiness

    includes features such as frangible catenary poles and third rail

    end caps. Fire safety includes train interior and train exterior

    features for minimizing the potential for fire and for reducing the

    rate at which fire might spread. Emergency preparedness

    includes features for emergency egress, access, lighting, signage,

    and on-board equipment, such as fire extinguishers.

    Overall, rail passenger travel has a high level of safety, and

    passenger train accidents are rare events. The numbers are low

    for expected casualties per passenger-mile and casualties per

    passenger-trip. A high level of safety, however, does not mean

    efforts to improve it should cease. But it does mean that crashes

    are rare events. Rare events in complex systems are notoriously

    difficult to analyze with confidence. There are too few accidents

    to provide the data needed for even a moderate degree of

    mathematical confidence in statistical analysis. Analyses of

    similar data in medical and scientific fields have been shown to

    be prone to the biases of the researchers, sometimes in subtle and

    difficult-to-detect ways. As a means of coping with the sparse

    data and potential biases, the goal has been to evaluate the

    accidents transparently and comprehensively. This approach

    allows a wide audience to understand how injuries and fatalities

    occur in passenger train accidents and, most importantly, allows

    us to prioritize mitigation strategies for research.

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