In 2022 there were 100 railway safety incidents and 4 accidents, which, among other things, involved passengers sustaining injuries when they fell while getting on or off a train. To further improve railway safety, we have taken various measures including those listed below.
Signals passed at danger (SPAD)
In 2022, a total of 27 SPAD (signal passed at danger) incidents were registered. In 4 of these cases the train reached a ‘danger point’: a point where the SPAD could actually result in a collision, a crash or a derailment. In 3 cases the danger point that was reached was a switch and in 1 case it was a level crossing that was still open. The number of times a danger point was reached was lower than in the preceding years. NS aims to reduce the number of SPAD incidents where a danger point is reached to zero. In contrast to practice in recent years, we only report SPAD incidents that occur on centrally controlled tracks. These are the tracks in between and around stations, where signal operation and line occupancy are controlled from a single central location. Last year we also reported statistics for the tracks on holding yards and shunting yards. We no longer do so because the risk at those locations is much lower due to various factors, including the speed limit of 40 km/h, causing the figures for those types of tracks to be less relevant.
Over the past few years, NS has introduced a range of measures to prevent SPAD incidents, including a stricter braking criterion (technical enforcement of more powerful braking when approaching a red signal), ORBIT (a system that warns drivers when they are approaching a red signal too fast) and TimTim/RTA (route information). NS monitors all SPAD incidents in order to learn from them by establishing their causes and identify further measures to prevent them.
Non-actively protected level crossings (NABOs)
The investigation into the accident near Hooghalen in 2020 has revealed that in certain conditions, heavy or long vehicles do not have enough time to cross a non-actively protected level crossing (NABO). This is why NS continues to call for all such level crossings to be removed. We are in consultation about this issue with parties including the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, and ProRail. Of the total of 30 identified NABOs that present an elevated risk, 25 have been removed. One more is scheduled to be removed in the future, and 2 more will be protected. No action was required for 1 NABO because a further study revealed that it poses no extra high risk, and for another one a solution has yet to be found.
Safety is an integral part of major changes
When implementing innovations, renovations and changes NS always maps out the risks involved for railway safety, and takes and monitors control measures. Key risks in terms of railway safety are person under train collisions, accidents on a level crossing, other types of collisions, transfers (passengers being squeezed or falling between a train and a platform), fire or smoke, and derailment. In the context of major changes, safety and the human factors discipline are included in the development process from an integrated perspective. This will help to reduce costs and lead times. One example is the programme for ERTMS, which NS also worked on in 2022. Human factors experts assess the impact of such programmes on the safety of the transport system, to help us identify the best way to make sure the safety level at least remains equal. The human factors method has now also been adopted within the ERMT programme. In addition, we have launched a study to establish the extent to which train drivers are able to remember specific ERTMS knowledge when they are not actually using the system. Other examples of projects and programmes with an integrated safety perspective include Automatic Train Operation (ATO), the Technically Controlled Departure Process (TGV) and requirements for new rolling stock.
The ORBIT system warns train drivers when they are approaching a red signal at too high a speed. As such, the system can prevent signal passed at danger (SPAD) incidents. Intercity trains have been equipped with ORBIT since mid-2018. In 2021, we finalised the installation of ORBIT in the last rolling stock series: Flirt and SNG. This means that all Intercity and Sprinter trains on the main rail network now have ORBIT. Data from ORBIT provides insight into the braking behaviour of our train drivers, meaning it can also be used to further improve that behaviour. In 2022 we explored the possibility of using ORBIT data to identify high-risk signals, such as signals in unsuitable locations (just behind a curve) or signals that train drivers automatically expect to be at clear, for instance.
Adapting the braking criterion
Back in 2017, NS decided in principle to impose a stricter braking criterion for IC rolling stock. By late 2022, all type VIRM, ICM and DDZ Intercity trains had been converted. The Traxx locomotives were excluded, because leased locomotives can only be adapted to a limited extent and Traxx will no longer be used once the introduction of the ICNG has been completed. In addition, in 2020 we decided to also apply a stricter braking criterion for our Sprinter trains. All Sprinter trains were likewise converted, therefore, in 2022, which means the project was completed successfully.
In 2022, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, NS and ProRail discussed the issue of an added functionality in STM ATB (Specific Transmission Module - Automatic Train Protection), a solution that uses transponders between the rails to gather and transmit train data. This technical solution substantially improves rail safety at relatively low costs. Once it is introduced, it will be impossible for a train to pass an SPAD at high speed. The addition of this functionality is of huge importance to NS in its efforts to curb safety risks as much as possible. This is why NS decided, in consultation with ProRail, to install STM ATB with added functionality in its own rolling stock that is provided with ERTMS and to commission ProRail to install the transponders in the tracks. Other carriers can also opt for this STM ATB with added functionality.
NS strives for a pro-active safety culture in which colleagues make a collective effort to create a safe working environment. We do so by listening to each other, being open about safety levels and being aware of the risks involved in our work and our working environment. In the safety culture measurement from 2021 we achieved a higher score than in the previous measurement in 2018. This means we have come closer to our goal of a pro-active safety culture. We had formulated two spearheads for 2022:
Conversations with management during safety rounds on the shop floor. In these talks we consult employees to find out why, in certain situations, safety rules are not complied with and then address the obstacles or issues identified.
Speed up the processing of reports of unsafe situations through a management focus on timely completion and the feedback of results to employees.
The results of the safety culture measurement have been discussed with all sections and departments of our organisation. Teams have agreed on action plans aimed at further strengthening the safety culture among their own people in 2022.