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Maintenance of intensively used rail networks must and can be done more safely.

Despite extensive research, the exact cause of the tragic train accident in Voorschoten, in which a crane operator died last year, remains unexplained. This is stated in the recently published report of the Dutch Safety Board. In the late hours of April 3, a freight train collided with a construction crane while track work was underway, an incident that derailed a passenger train and broke it in half.

De research council has been able to confirm that the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management has a policy in which the continued operation of trains during maintenance is prioritized. According to the report, this policy would give the wrong incentives to the rail sector, where work safety and learning from accidents are not always paramount. “Interests such as working safely, limiting the dangers of night work and learning from accidents therefore receive insufficient attention,” the researchers note.

"The Dutch railway is among the safest in the world. But things still go wrong or almost wrong on the railway too often. We have to learn from that. We recommend that the sector do much more to register and analyze incidents This way the sector can learn together, but also innovate in safety."

On the night in question, two of the four tracks were kept free for maintenance, while the other two tracks were temporarily put out of action. However, before these tracks were decommissioned, the crane operator already crossing the road, which directly led to the fatal collision. The impact was enormous; the freight train driver was injured and the crane driver died on the spot.

The chaos was exacerbated when a passenger train ran into the debris of the construction crane and derailed. Drone images of the incident show the enormous damage caused. There were fifty people on the passenger train, nineteen of whom had to be taken to hospital.

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On April 4, 2023, a crane crossed a track that was in service during planned work. The crane was hit by a freight train and a passenger train. The crane operator died in this accident and around 30 people were injured, some of whom were very seriously injured. The devastation was enormous.

According to it investigation report the accident was due to a combination of factors, including the risky environment of a rail deployment site and workers' dependence on error-prone verbal communications. “For conversational discipline, it is important that there are agreements about the method of communication and that workers are trained accordingly,” the council states. ProRail's analysis after the accident also reveals that the rail deployment site in Voorschoten is one of the riskiest in the Netherlands.

The research report further highlights the challenges of night work and its consequences for safety. Although there were no indications of fatigue for the crane operator, there were indications of over-fatigue among other key figures, something that does not correspond with the Working Hours Act.

ProRail has responded to the report and states that it is in discussions with the sector and the ministry to improve the safety of rail workers and to better support them with modern technologies. “We want to give rail workers more control over their own safety,” says a ProRail spokesperson.

This tragedy underlines the importance of continued attention to safety measures and communication within the rail sector, a sector that is still considered one of the safest in the world by the Dutch Safety Board. Yet, as Research Council Chairman Chris van Dam notes: “We have to learn from that. We recommend that the sector put much more effort into registering and analyzing incidents.”

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