Article ReviewEuropean Rail Crashes Show Gaps in an Increasingly Precarious System
This paper sets out to review and analyze an article that deals with a current transportation policy issue. The subject article is was published in the New York Times on 9 September 2013 and was entitled: “European Rail Crashes Show Gaps in an Increasingly Precarious System”, by Doreen Carvajal.
The article opens by asking why management of the Spanish rail system trusted the driver of the high speed train that crashed on July 24th killing 79 people to be driving that train, when he had previously boasted of speeding and just prior to the crash was using his mobile phone. Then Carvajal continues by stating that this crash was just the latest of what she calls “a recent spate of deadly accidents involving passenger and freight trains in Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland.” She refers to the European rail system as having been of a high standard, but claims that the European policy to unify the network has lacked cohesion, along with other EU policies. Although Carvajal reports that spending on modernization of the rail system is to be prioritized she notes that partly because some parts of the network are privately owned, creating a “sophisticated, unified system” is difficult. Examples of problems identified include old track being used for new high speed trains, some lack of automatic braking systems and drivers working alone in the cab (as in the Spanish crash) because of cuts in employee numbers. Citing other examples of crashes – in France, Belgium and Switzerland – Carvajal repeats that lack of the needed technology and braking systems combined with outdated track and employee cuts (meaning the driver is unaccompanied in his cab), have led to these avoidable accidents.
Whilst the article has highlighted some valid points, for example the apparent lack of automated braking systems as standard across Europe, there are weaknesses / flaws. Carvajal refers to “high-speed 21st-century trains often run on 19th-century rails.” The fact is that the great majority of the high speed train network comprises brand new, dedicated track, built at enormous cost. Spain and the UK and France are examples of EU countries where this is the caseongoing. Additionally, although the concept of two people in the train cab appears sensible for safety reasons, if the sophisticated automatic braking systems are installed in all European trains, a second “driver” would not be necessary.
Carvajal’s reference to “a recent spate of deadly accidents involving passenger and freight trains in Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland” also lacks detail. She cites just four crashes in her article – does that constitute a “spate”? And the article does not give the reader an insight into the overall safety record of the European rail network. It would for example give a better insight if the article referred to the number of such serious crashes over (say) the last five or ten years, to put the cited recent crashesm into proportion. It is also fairly evident to this reviewer that the rail unions would be expected to campaign for additional personnel in the cab; they are bound to try to secure extra jobs for their members.
Whilst the article rightly highlights the need for improved technology and perhaps more standardization across Europe, it is perhaps focussingfocusing on the very recent tragic crash in Spain which cost 79 lives, thereby distorting the general safety picture of
for European trains.
Whilst there are weaknesses in the article, and some evidence of distortion of or shortage of facts – perhaps to create a more dramatic news story (?) – it does draw attention to the need for ensuring all trains / tracks to be equipped with the latest automatic braking technology, especially for the modern high speed trains that can run at 200mph (320 km/h). Perhaps to achieve that and other safety objectives, there needs to be closer cooperation between those running the rail networks of the separate European Union countries, as well as a unified approach to ongoing investment in the rail infrastructure across Europe.
Carvajal, Doreen. (9 September 2013). “European Rail Crashes Show Gaps in an Increasingly Precarious System.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/09/world/europe/european-rail-crashes-hint-at-gaps-in-system.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&