Dutch freight line the Betuweroute. Source: ProRail

Dutch government: ‘train drivers sometimes lack competence’

The safety on railways in the Netherlands could be increased. This was the message of the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), which presented several reports with recommendations to the government on Tuesday. The number of level crossings should be reduced, and train drivers should not ignore important signals. Moreover, damages in rolling stock should be communicated more effectively.

The ILT presented the 2017 Annual Report on Railway Safety, concluding that it considers the Dutch railway network to be safe. The Netherlands ranks 6th in Europe in terms of rail safety. However, there are certain measures that could be taken to increase the level of safety. The most significant difference could be made by reducing the number of level crossings, the ILT argues.

Level crossings

In 2017, twelve fatalities were reported, of which half were on a level crossing. Moreover, three fatalities occurred alongside a track. Level crossings are not only considered a risk for road traffic, but they also offer unauthorised access to the track, the ILT pointed out.

The Netherlands currently has almost 2,500 level crossings. Over the past few years, several crossings have already been lifted, with the cancellation of another 17 in 2017. But more efforts are needed in securing the remaining crossings, the report reads. On the same day that the report was presented, the Dutch State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven of Infrastructure and Water Management announced the ambitious plan to bring to zero the number of unsecured crossings within five years, by either securing them or closing them.

Train drivers

The professional competence of train drivers is insufficiently guaranteed by rail companies. This is necessary to prevent incidents on the track. Several incidents occurred in the country, where a train driver did not react correctly to signals from train security. This created dangerous situations. For example, in the first half of 2018, drivers of railway company Keolis crossed a red signal nine times.

Operators must not only have the right papers but also be able to apply the specific rules and safety systems of their own company when operating other trains, on other routes. Railway companies must invest in training programmes to update the knowledge of train drivers, and when recruiting new train drivers, these companies have to look at their practical experience, rather than only the driver’s certificates. Knowledge and experience are not or hardly tested, the impression of the candidate is more important. This means that there is ‘insufficient insight’ into the actual skills of the driver, the ILT recommends.

Damage reports

The ILT presented an additional report on the reporting mechanism of damaged rolling stock. When these damages exceed a certain norm, they are considered to be a risk and must be reported. In 2017, the number of such reported damage increased, after several years of a downward trend. The ILT urges railway companies to reverse this development.

The reporting mechanism is called Quo Vadis. In the past, accidents have occurred where certain damages had been detected, but not properly communicated, resulting in derailment. ILT pleads for a more efficient use of the data. For example, significant damage must be reported faster, and not only to the manufacturer but also to the operator running the rolling stock. In case of a damage report, all parties involved must communicate about the action taken, states the report.

Train inspection

Apart from these recommendations, the ILT expressed other concerns. It also represented a report about the companies certifying new trains on the market. These companies are not always unbiased and do not carry out the inspection in a sufficient manner. In order to save time and money for their clients, they do not always make the right choices, the report reads.

In another report, the ILT pleads for more time to prepare a concession when a railway company takes over passenger transport in a region from another company. More time will result in less pressure on the new railway company, which should ultimately lead to less chance of errors and other security risks.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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