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Can Technology Help In The Event Of Rail Emergencies?

Posted: 30/03/2019

Having an effective emergency preparedness and response plan is essential in the rail industry, with millions of people using train services across the UK every single day.

While rail companies are continuing to train their staff members and make sure employees understand how to handle and response in emergency situations, there is a growing trend to utilise technology to help deal with potential emergencies on the tracks.

Network Rail understands the importance of public safety, with Director of Incident Management and Operation Security at the organisation, James Nattrass commenting: “We are not complacent on emergency response and have trained a number of specialist incident officers and also increased the training of our route control managers.”

He went on to say: “It is a paradox that the safer we are as a system, the less experienced our people become at managing a major incident, so we train hard to practice contingencies.”

Mr Nattrass told Railway-Technology that Network Rail staff are all responsible for safety, not just the Controller of Site Safety.

The organisation also relies on communications through its own internal telecoms network, as well as its WiFi, airwave radios, so we have joint interoperability with the blue light emergency services as well as emergency command and control function.

Technology is key to ensuring the safety of as many people as possible in emergency events, and Network Rail operates the Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway (GSM-R). It supports communication between the driver and signaller, and enables the driver to stop all trains in the area if their safety is at risk.

This, Mr Nattrass stated, is “key in managing a variety of crisis situations that can occur on the railway”.

Network Rail is not the only railway operator that is making safety its priority, and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) recently designed an app to assist first responders in emergencies.

The AskRail app allows users to access information about what type of hazardous material the carriage holds. This enables the 20,000 members of the first responders’ community to ascertain what course of action to take.

Product Manager for RailInc – the IT and services subsidiary of ARR – Clayton Miller, told the news provider that stripes on freight trains used to indicate the most dangerous materials. These freight trains carrying hazardous materials could prove to be extremely dangerous in the event of a crash.

However, people can “see the marking on the car (on the app), checking that from a distance before they approach and try to get any further content information about the train”.

Whether apps or communication devices need to employed for the safety and protection of passengers or to reduce the impact of a de-railed freight train or one involved in a collision, it is clear that technology is changing the way companies are preparing for emergency situations.

What’s more, 1.7 billion people travel by rail every year, amounting to four million using Network Rail services alone each day. Therefore, it is essential that best practice emergency preparedness (whether planning, testing, exercise drills or training) are detailed within company procedures – whether by manpower or technology.