Europe has one of best safety records in world
Two deadly railway accidents inside two weeks that claimed 80 lives in Spain and six in France have raised questions about train safety across Europe. But experts say rail travel remains one of the safest forms of transport on the continent.
From Communist-era trains in parts of eastern Europe to modern high-speed TGVs hurtling through the French countryside, Europe has a vast array of trains but among the highest safety rates in the world, experts say.
"Accidents like this are incredibly rare," Sim Harris, managing editor of 'Rail News' in Britain, said.
Spain, which was plunged into three days of national mourning following Wednesday's catastrophic derailing at Santiago de Compostela, has a better-than-average safety record, said Chris Carr, head of the European Railway Agency's safety unit.
Figures compiled by the European Union show railway accident figures shrinking steadily by about 6pc a year in the 28-nation bloc, totalling a 70pc reduction in the accident rate from 1990-2012.
Even so, a May report by the EU's railway agency says that around 2,400 "significant" accidents occur each year. The vast majority, however, involve collisions with cars at level crossings and people – often suicide victims – being hit by trains. Those incidents kill some 1,200 people a year, the report says.
"If you put together the figures of suicides, unauthorised persons and level crossing users, they dwarf all other fatalities. They account for nearly all of them," Mr Carr said.
Modern safety systems on tracks and in trains help prevent accidents. Mr Harris said he believes modern trains in Spain would have been equipped with a system which first warns the driver of excessive speeds and then slows the train down if the train continues to go too fast.
Even in ultra-efficient Germany, which has one of Europe's densest rail networks, accidents can happen. The deadliest in recent years was the Eschede crash of June 3, 1998, which killed 101 people. Investigators believe it was caused by a single fatigue crack in one wheel which caused the train to derail.
In France, prosecutors said that a steel splint that came loose and knocked one carriage off the rails was most likely behind the July 12 accident in in Bretigny-sur-Orge south of Paris that killed six people.
That crash came in a country that prides itself on its sprawling network of high-speed trains known simply by their French acronym TGV and their safety record.
"In 30 years TGVs have carried more than two billion passengers at speeds over 300kmh, without a single fatal accident," said the SNCF's Frank Paul Weber.