Saturday, 5 July 2014

Making Poland's railways safer

The difference in health-and-safety culture between the UK and Poland is clearly visible, nowhere more so than on the railway. Things which in Britain would be deemed unacceptable are normal in Poland. In Britain, railway tracks are fenced off, straying onto a main line - or indeed a branch line - is not easy. The costs of keeping rails secure from trespassers must be huge - but the costs pay off.

It's worth referring to the European Rail Agency's latest safety report, which puts things into perspective. Let's start with level crossings. In Poland, the number of fatalities in level crossing accidents is nine times higher than in the UK (61 deaths compared to seven in 2012). Poland has around 14,000 level crossings, the UK 6,100. Yet the UK's rail network is larger (31,000km compared to Poland's 29,000km), more than twice as busy and with much faster trains.

The photo above, taken today on ul. Baletowa, shows the problem. Gamblers and chancers taking a risk with their lives and their passengers' lives. The coal train gave several loud hoots as it approached this unguarded level crossing (which lacks even signal lights). And yet until the very last moment, cars continued to cross. 

Another category of rail accident is unauthorised persons on track hit by a train. In 2012, 180 people were killed this way in Poland, nearly six times more than in the UK where the death toll was 32.

Below: passengers crossing the track at W-wa Służewiec station to get to the tram loop. A footbridge has been provided (left), but that means walking up and then down a flight of steps.

It would seem from the statistics that Poland has to spend much money on infrastructure improvement and on changing people's attitudes. Polish railways are the second-most dangerous in the EU after Latvia (in terms of deaths and serious injuries per million passenger kms). The UK rail network is the EU's second safest after Luxembourg.

But despite the relatively poor performance of Polish railways as seen in the context of other European networks, Poland's railways are vastly safer than roads. As this document points out, your chances of dying in a car crash are 50 times higher than in a plane crash, and 25 times higher than being killed on the railways.

Poland's rail network is under-invested; I trust that EU funds from the 2014-2020 financial perspective will make their way to where they are most needed to improve the speed and safety of Polish railways.

This time last year:
Along mirror'd canyons

This time three years ago:
Mad about Marmite

This time four year:
Komorowski wins second round of Presidential elections?

This time fiver years ago:
A beautiful summer dusk in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Classic cars, London and Warsaw


Alexander said...

The first improvement the Polish railways should make, in my opinion, is to shorten the waiting times at level crossings. In Poland it takes a very long time before the train passes, and the gates to close, and open again. If the gates close about 30 seconds before a train passes, and open directly after the train has passed, more people would be willing to wait.

Regards, Alexander

Michael Dembinski said...

Yes, I checked. Watch in hand, it was nearly three minutes between the barrier going down (for the train from Jeziorki to town) and going back up after the train had passed. Gets drivers complacent.

Anonymous said...

If you think Poland is bad look at this scene from India: