February 25, 2007

Richard Branson

I was on a Virgin train on Friday afternoon, travelling up the West Coast main line. Only as far as Preston thankfully, and several hours before a crash on the line. But at the start of the journey, a precocious kid had been asking his parents why trains don’t have seatbelts. His dad’s answer? Because trains don’t crash.

I bet they had an interesting conversation yesterday morning.

Anyway, the crash is proof that these new trains really don’t need seatbelts. I was amazed that the train will probably be repaired and sent back out onto the tracks. It is, as Sir Richard Branson said, “built like a tank”. In fact we should sent them to Iraq – they’d probably do a better job than many armoured personnel carriers.

Branson has gone up in my estimation since the crash. He might be a publicity-seeking maverick, but he’s not afraid to show his face even when things have gone wrong. Many people would have shied away.

According to the News of the World, the driver may have paralysed himself by staying at the wheel and wrestling with the train’s controls until the last second. Little kids might be afraid of the fast speeds that trains manage – but with drivers like him and trains as sturdy as Branson’s, they shouldn’t be.

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. All the driver had to do is take his foot off the dead man’s pedal and the emergency brakes are applied. Apart from that, there’s nothing else he could have done (as, unsurprisingly trains don’t have steering wheels), although I still commend his bravery for staying in the cab after the train came off the line.

    There seems now to be this widespread call (mainly from people who know nothing about the railways) that trains should have seatbelts. It’d be all well and good fitting them, but would people actually wear them? For example coaches are fitted with them but very few people use them (as highlighted by the National Express crash last month). I think Friday’s accident has shown the crashworthiness of modern trains (the body shells were more or less completely intact, only a handful of windows broken and, from one picture, barely any interior damage either), and it is without question that the sturdy design of the Class 390 has prevented a higher injury/death toll, without the need for seatbelts.

    I’m thankful the media hasn’t gone into quite the same anti-railway overdrive it has for previous accidents, which may partly be because before this crash the last fatal one caused by industry negligence was Potters Bar in May 2002 (in fact it could even be argued that in Friday’s crash negligence may not be entirely to blame as the suspect points had been examined as recently as (AFAIK) a fortnight ago), but maybe also there is more of an acceptance that, no matter how safe you make any form of transport, accidents will happen. In any case, travelling by rail will no doubt always be statistically far safer than road transport.

    25 Feb 2007, 17:26

  2. Jonathan

    I also admire Branson for agreeing to be interviewed. He’s not the best public speaker anyway, and he was clearly quite upset at what had happened, but he still stood in the field and answered questions.

    Please, no to seatbets on trains! It’s one of the many things that makes rail travel so comfortable. The main porpose of seatbelts in cars is to prevent the occupants being thrown forward if the car hits something. That sort of crash is much less likely with a train (and half the passengers sit facing backwards anyway). In the type of accident where a train derails and goes off to the side, seatbelts are much less significant.

    25 Feb 2007, 19:45

  3. Says something when you compare the coverage of the train story, in which one person was killed, with the following which was given 150 square cm in the Coventry Telegraph last Friday:

    A WOMAN whose aggressive driving caused a Warwickshire grandmother to crash, suffering fatal injuries as her young granddaughter sat beside her, has been jailed.

    Deborah Dunn caused the fatal crash on the A45 near Dunchurch by undertaking 63-yearold Ursula Forrest, from Rugby, and then cutting back in front of her.

    As she attempted to avoid what she believed would be a collision Mrs Forrest, who had collected her sixyear-old granddaughter Sasha from school, lost control of her car and crashed into a tree.

    Dunn, aged 42, of Shackleton Drive, Daventry, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving at Warwick Crown Court and was yesterday jailed for three years.

    The tragedy happened at about 4pm on January 31 2006.

    Prosecutor Adrian Keeling said: “The defendant in her car closed up behind her, clearly going much faster, and then undertook her and then violently steered her car back into the outside lane in front of the deceased’s car.

    “It was born out of frustration and bad temper. There was no contact, but the effect was to cause the deceased to swerve her car to the right to avoid the collision she no doubt feared. That took her off-side wheels onto the grass verge and in an attempt to correct that she over-steered.” Mrs Forrest’s Peugeot crossed both lanes and hit struck a tree as Dunn drove on.

    Driving instructor Martin Scott, who was ahead of both cars and saw what happened, took Dunn’s number and returned to try to help Mrs Forrest and Sasha, but the pensioner died at the scene.

    Graeme Simpson, defending, said Dunn, a mother-of-two who had no previous convictions, had showed patience in the seven miles before she undertook, and had not been aware of the accident until she was spoken to by the police.

    He asked for any jail term to be suspended.

    But jailing her and banning her from driving for five years, Judge Michael Mott said: “This was a piece of driving which was quite deliberately aggressive.”

    25 Feb 2007, 21:06

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