Surprising restraint

Researching the post below reminded me: it’s very unusual (0 out of 18 level crossing fatalities in 2003) for a train-on-car level crossing crash to kill any passengers, and unusual (1 out of 18) for it even to kill the train driver (p45 of the latest railway safety report sheds more light).

The car on the tracks at Reading was a Mazda 323, which is not a serious or heavy piece of kit. The train was an HST based on MK3 stock, which is collision-resistant and several orders of magnitude more massive than the Mazda. The normal result of a 100mph collision would be train a bit dented, driver [*] understandably traumatised, car rendered entirely theoretical.

It’s most likely that this is the kind of freak accident to which the HSE was referring when it said level crossings offered the "greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways" (p4), with a bit of car getting in between rails and wheels, and physics doing the rest.

But I’m surprised, given the media’s constant scaremongering about more or less everything, that nobody’s yet raised the prospect of terrorism: after all, an exploding car would dramatically increase the odds of a level crossing strike that derailed the train and killed a significant number of people.

My guess is that this story fits the [**] "the railways are so rubbish and dangerous, isn’t it dreadful" template so well that adding *another* lazy hack meme to the mix would’ve been far too confusing for all concerned.

[*] Train driver, obviously and just-as-well-ishly.

[**] Completely fictional, but this never stopped anyone before…

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4 thoughts on “Surprising restraint

  1. Given the amount of disruption and associated Economic Damage caused by a simple one-car prang, let alone a full on overturned lorry on the M6 at rush hour, I’m surprised we haven’t heard more acceptances of responsibility from the terrorist community.

    Perhaps they’re just quietly undermining capitalism, safe in the knowlede that anything involving road transport (no matter how deliberate) is written off as an ‘accident’.

  2. The Independent’s report explains one of the reasons why Saturday’s crash was so much worse than usual for when a train hits a vehicle on a crossing – It is thought that the whole train was derailed because it encountered a set of points after the impact which diverted it into a siding where there is a 25mph speed limit. Usually, when a train hits a car, the vehicle is crushed and brushed aside, and most of the rolling stock stays on the track.

    As for Bastien’s comment, beyond economic damage, I believe on average more people die on the roads every day than died on Saturday and I see just about every day in my job (I work in travel news) images of smashed up cars as bad, if not usually worse, than those of the train.

  3. I also wondered about the terrorist thing. That is to say, when I got to the shop for my paper this morning I was surprised not to see at least one headline. Probably with quote marks somewhere in it. You know – "Terrorist could have caused" horrible train crash…

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