Buses and Trains Lack Safety Features That Are Standard Elsewhere – Smart Media Magazine

Buses and Trains Lack Safety Features That Are Standard Elsewhere

Serious train and bus accidents are rare. But when they happen, passengers and their bags have almost none of the protections considered standard on planes and cars.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long recommended a variety of measures to improve passenger safety, including installing lap-shoulder seatbelts, requiring riders to buckle up and improving window safety and overhead baggage restraints.

“Current safety standards for locomotive cabs and rail passenger cars are inadequate,” the N.T.S.B. said in February when it unveiled its “most wanted” list of safety improvements for trains. “Protecting passengers and crews from injury requires keeping rail car windows intact and maintaining their structural integrity during an accident, and includes occupant restraint systems, such as seatbelts, to mitigate the severity of passenger injuries.”

But regulators of Amtrak, Greyhound and a host of national and regional transportation carriers have generally not adopted the recommendations.

He added that he is a mountaineer and not risk averse. “But I always harness up, and I’m always on the rope,” he said. “So if I’m sitting on an Amtrak and there’s a safety belt there, I’m going to put it on.”

If trains have an Achilles’ heel, it is their windows. The safety board issued a recommendation 47 years ago about “the problem of ejection of passengers through large side windows.” Ms. Dinh-Zarr said Amtrak’s windows, which are secured by rubber grommets, remain a problem because they can pop out in a crash or derailment. She was on the scene in Philadelphia in May 2015, she said, when eight passengers were killed and 185 were taken to hospitals after a locomotive and seven passenger cars derailed.

“The N.T.S.B. found that if the passenger car windows had remained intact and secured in the cars, some passengers would not have been ejected and would likely have survived the accident,” the board’s report on the accident said. “Further, the passengers were not protected from serious injuries resulting from being thrown from their seats when the cars overturned.”

Kimberly Woods, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said in an email: “Amtrak will continue to work with industry experts to explore the enhancement of occupant protection systems on our trains.” Amtrak’s windows, she said, “comply with federal requirements for impact resistance and emergency release.”

When asked why Amtrak had not installed seatbelts, she said international research on the matter has shown “inconclusive results regarding any improvements to safety.”

In a 2017 letter, the Federal Railroad Administration responded to the safety board’s seatbelt recommendation: “Current research indicates that unlike in the automobile and air transportation modes, adding seatbelts in passenger rail cars is not the most effective way to increase safety.”

Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the agency, added that the railroad administration’s own “extensive research” on the subject “has revealed that the use of seatbelts could actually increase the risk and severity of injuries.” He said the agency’s focus on “occupant protection and accident survivability” has led to “redesigned tables and seats that contain and cushion passengers,” as well as “enhanced emergency egress features” including windows, lighting and “structural crashworthiness.”

Commercial buses manufactured after 2016 are required to have seatbelts. But after a Greyhound accident in San Jose, Calif., in 2016 in which two passengers were thrown from the bus and killed, State Senator Jerry Hill looked into why everyone on board wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He found that travelers did not have to wear the belts.

“What’s the point of a seatbelt if passengers and drivers aren’t required to wear them?” he asked. So Mr. Hill introduced legislation, which took effect last summer, making California the first state with a law requiring bus passengers to wear seatbelts in any bus that has them and requiring operators to inform passengers before departure that they must buckle up or face a fine.

The N.T.S.B. supported California’s law. And on its most-wanted list, it recommends that every state enact a law that requires all vehicle occupants to use seatbelts and allow law enforcement officers to give tickets to anyone who has not buckled up. The agency said it was concerned about “the limited availability and use of seatbelts in commercial vehicles” including motor coaches, school buses and medium-size buses.

Mr. Valentine said passengers did not receive a safety briefing, so opening emergency windows proved difficult. “We were fighting to keep them open so that we could get out of the bus and start getting people out,” he recalled. The heavy bus windows don’t just pop off, he said. “You have to hold them up like on camper awnings.”

Crystal Booker, a spokeswoman for Greyhound, said in an email: “We are constantly reviewing safety features on our buses to look for ways to improve passengers’ safety.” She added that all buses “undergo thorough inspections” and that “all Greyhound drivers nationwide are trained on safety announcements,” including evacuation procedures.

She said the back of Greyhound’s seats help to “cushion passengers and mitigate injury,” even for passengers who don’t wear a seatbelt.

When asked why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had not issued federal regulations to improve bus emergency exit windows, Kathryn Henry, a spokeswoman, said the agency was still analyzing emergency evacuation research it completed in 2011 “to inform possible means of improving the emergency exits.”

She added, “The agency believes that bus window exits must not only enable adequate evacuation in emergencies, but also should not pop out too readily in a crash.”

Crash survivors, meanwhile, often have to contend with a range of lingering physical and psychological effects. After physical therapy, Mr. Wetzel — who survived being thrown from an Amtrak train — said he was functioning at just 60 percent of his abilities.

And Mr. Valentine said he avoided all bus travel.

“I’m still at the point where I barely sleep at night,” he said. “It’s something I’ve constantly got to think of and it’s always on my mind.”

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