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Rail E-ssentials

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Fire safety for mountain railways and rack railways in alpine regionS

Especially in difficult terrain railways must satisfy particularly high safety standards, while also considering the characteristic features of the terrain and specific operations. Having been involved in fire testing and fire-safety assessments for several mountain railways and rack railways, TÜV SÜD Rail is thoroughly familiar with the challenges and special features of these rail vehicles.

Fire safety for mountain railways and rack railways in alpine regionsPartnering Stadler Bussnang AG in several projects for building new rail cars for mountain and rack railways, TÜV SÜD Rail was responsible for testing and assessment in the field of fire safety. The approval of the new rail vehicles of all projects fell under the responsibility of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport (FOT), the only approval authority in the world with special regulations for rack railways.

The fire safety assessment reports prepared by TÜV SÜD Rail were used in several successful approval procedures, including those of the new electric multiple units for WAB (Wengernalpbahn, 2014), MVR (Transports Montreux-Vevey-Riviera, 2015), TPC (Transports Publics du Chablais, 2015) and BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn) as well as one rack locomotive for the Bavarian Zugspitzbahn BZB (both 2016).

Special challenges in the expert assessment of mountain and rack railways include many special and specific features in routing (e.g. in alpine regions or in tunnels) and the operational aspects of rack railways (e.g. speed and braking requirements). Standards can only cover these challenges to some extent. In other words, the relevant safety requirements result from the operational processes of the individual rail companies.

For example, speeds as slow as 17.5 km/h at gradients of 250 ‰ and the resulting long travel times are crucial for reaching a stopping point suitable for passenger evacuation. The categorisation per tunnel length, which is normally used in standards, is less important in this case.

Operational aspects of the respective rail company, including seasonal aspects such as weather conditions or events, also play a role in possible evacuation in case of fire. In alpine areas, evacuation of a train travelling through tracks cleared of deep snow necessitates the creation of large areas next to the track to ensure passengers can safely evacuate the train independently and stay at a certain distance from the vehicle.

Working with the rail-car manufacturer and operators, TÜV SÜD's experts successfully included these and many other aspects in their assessment of whether the new rail cars fulfilled all safety objectives. The early involvement of TÜV SÜD Rail, often even in the rail-car manufacturer's tendering phase, proved to be a key success factor throughout all projects. It enabled an optimal application of the life-cycle or V-model of EN 50126, which in turn made it possible to obtain early assurance that the concepts and detailed solutions selected by the manufacturer would be approved by the regulator.

The excellent collaboration between the experts from TÜV SÜD Rail and Stadler Bussnang AG in the field of fire safety is currently being continued in various projects for new rail vehicles for several railways, including the Appenzellerbahn and Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn.

Should you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact our experts:

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