Following the dramatic series of consecutive railway accidents that occurred in July in Lac-Mégantic (Canada, 7 July), Brétigny-sur-Orge (France, 12 July), Santiago de Compostela (Spain, 24 July) and Grange-près-Marnand (Switzerland, 29 July 2013) causing a high number of fatalities, with passengers killed or injured, UIC Director-General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux in close liaison with UIC Safety Platform Chairman Ing. Peter Kleinschuster and the UIC Rail Safety Unit led by Peter Gerhardt, took the initiative to convene an Extraordinary meeting of the Safety Platform Steering Group at the earliest possible date. The main purpose of this meeting was to organise an exchange of information on a professional and confidential basis on the series of railway accidents, in particular the description and consequences of the accidents, an overview of the first technical and procedural measures taken, and the “initial lessons that can benefit the entire railway community in the field of safety and prevention of accidents. A further objective was also to have a first exchange on the support that UIC could offer to its members in the field of external communications on railway safety, in order to cope with the high number of requests from international media following railway accidents.
The Extraordinary meeting of the UIC Safety Platform Steering Group was held on 29 August at UIC Headquarters in Paris. It was chaired by Ing. Peter Kleinschuster from ÖBB (Austria), assisted by Peter Gerhardt, Head of UIC Safety Unit, and attended by Heads of Safety and other Managers from SNCF and RFF (France), DB AG (Germany), EJRC (Japan), Infrabel (Belgium), PKP SA (Poland), RENFE (Spain), RSSB (United Kingdom), SBB-CFF (Switzerland) and Trafikverket (Sweden). The meeting was also attended by UIC Directors and representatives from all UIC Departments concerned.
In welcoming the participants, UIC Director-General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux stressed the importance of ensuring strong solidarity within the UIC railway family, in particular with members affected by such dramatic circumstances. It is also the responsibility of UIC to examine what kind of support can be offered to the members concerned, and to arrange for members to share professional and technical best practice on railway safety and accident prevention. Considering the strong impact of railway accidents on media and public opinion, this extraordinary meeting will also allow a discussion to be launched on possible guidelines for external communications on railway safety and accidents, to be shared with member railways in view of ensuring coherence and consistency.
The major part of the meeting was dedicated to the description of the circumstances of the recent railway accidents in Brétigny-sur-Orge (by SNCF), Santiago-de-Compostela (by RENFE) and Grange-près-Marnand (by SBB-CFF) as internal information for participants. The presentations were followed by questions from the participants.
Another topic on the agenda dealt with the procedure for rapidly sharing information about major railway accidents between Safety Platform Steering Group members. This should be achieved in particular through exchanges in the framework of IRSN.
The next topic was the description of the added value of the UIC Safety Database managed by the UIC Rail Safety Unit (Olivier Georger) and gathering data on events and accidents from 20 participating (European) railway companies.
The last part of the extraordinary meeting was dedicated to external communications on rail safety and the support that UIC could propose to its members in this matter, particularly during the period following accidents where the media show increased interest in general aspects of railway safety.
Of course, communicating with the media directly following accidents is managed by the crisis communications system of each individual railway. But at a later stage, it appears that many requests from the media are received at UIC on safety statistics, intermodal comparisons of transport safety, etc. In this context it was agreed during the meeting, as a first step, to think about a number of rail safety indicators that could be easily handed over to media – at their request – to illustrate the safety performance of rail transport. The next step should be the preparation of a “media kit” to be shared with the communications departments of member railways, including statistical data on rail safety, elements characterising railway safety, description of members’ activities and UIC aiming to improve rail safety performance, etc.