Switch of Railway: Hilversum Derailment Case (Case Study Sample)
WHat caused the Hilversum Derailment and what can be done to prevent this issue from happening again?
What is/are the recommended solutions and what are the consequences of the chosen solution/s?
Switch of Railway: Hilversum Derailment Case
Course Code and Name
Switch of Railway: Hilversum Derailment Case
1 The Problem
Railway switches, also known as turnouts are mechanical installations that aid in guiding trains from one track to another; for instance, where a siding or spur branches off (Bos, 2020). Switches are an essential part of railway tracks and the idea of moving switch blades horizontally to change the train direction is as old as the ideas of railways themselves. Besides, switches are some of the most costly and dangerous elements of railroads since the lack of maintenance or constant assessment may result in devastating consequences such as in the Hilversum case (Dutch Safety Board, 2014). In January 2014, a trained derailed shortly after leaving Hilversum station. It passed a switch that shifted positions at the same time the train was passing over it which resulted in derailment. Such derailments are some of the gravest likely breakdowns in rail transport safety as they can cause major accidents and deaths. The ensuing investigation showed that the derailment was as a result of a defect in the switch, poor maintenance and a lack of communication between the chain of stakeholders. In the Hilversum case, the chain in question begins with those tasked with the original design of the railway and its switches, the purchase and production of point machines, to their installation, and the utilization and maintenance of the switch in general. Each of these elements may have an impact on the safe utilization of a turnout or switch.
On one hand, the point machine in the Hilversum case was placed in the middle of the track as opposed to the side which is a design issue (Bos, 2020). In the event that the point machine’s rod mechanism is fatigued and loses connection, it could result in a split switch and, consequently, in train derailment. A reconstruction of the Hilversum derailment in the Netherlands indicated that a flange back contact between the switch rail and the wheel flanges caused a fatigue crack in the point machine (Dutch Safety Board, 2014). On the other hand, railway transport is one of the most commonly used means in the Netherlands, which means that there is always heavy traffic which is an operational issue. This is also one of the causes of the wear and tear that resulted in the derailment. Lastly, the Hilversum derailment was believed to be, in part, as a result of long-term performance issue (Schuitemaker & Rajabalinejad, 2017). The safety board carried out an investigation that revealed that the regulations on maintenance were inadequate and could not prevent flange-back contacts. Additionally, ProRail did not know that the switch was worn out resulting in a heavily used switch that became unsafe without being assessed and repaired. All these issues added up to the derailment that occurred in the Hilversum railway line.
2 Recommended Solutions
As a result of increasing pressure from a society that constantly requires improved public transport performance, the maintenance of railroads and railways is increasingly focusing on the prevention of disruptions (Dutch Safety Board, 2014). This development might come at the risk of the safety of the rail, albeit unintentionally. This is because if the focus of maintenance is excessively towards the prevention of disruption of train services, it is possible that the parts that are vital to safety will be maintained inadequately and this may go unnoticed for a long time. On the design part, the point machine could be moved from the middle of the track to the side to prevent wear and tear due to excessive friction (Bos, 2020). Moreover, for switch rails to function properly, there is the need for a good bearing condition and adequate adjustment of the rollers. This issue can be solved by reducing friction to ensure smooth movement of the switch blades (Schuitemaker & Rajabalinejad, 2017). In very hot countries, such as the UAE which are extremely hot and sandy, there will be the need to prevent sand from getting into the switches in addition to covering them from hot weather. Sand, on one hand, would increase the friction which may result in incomplete switching while extremely hot weather tends to expand metals which may also negatively affect the switching mechanism. Hot weather and sand also increase friction and fatigue causing the switch to occur faster than it should which may result in accidents and derailments (Mistry, Lane & Allen, 2020). Lubrication and protection from extreme weather and other elements would significantly aid in the reduction of wear and tear due to friction despite heavy use of the railway.
Furthermore, there is the need to also organize railway maintenance in a way that there is more guarantee of the safe usability of the railroad infrastructure (Dutch Safety Board, 2014). This has to do with both the way safety relevant information is shared and utilized and the way railroads and railways maintenance is monitored and managed. There is also the need to ensure that the railway infrastructure safe usability has sufficient weight similar to other interests such as punctuality and capacity (Schuitemaker & Rajabalinejad, 2017). Maintenance contractors tend to prioritize issues that they may have to account for, and with no clear safety standard and poor supervision, those contracted for maintenance have no incentive to pay enough attention to specific parts of the switches (Dutch Safety Board, 2014). This means that there is also the need to for a more firmly embedded safe conditions of railway infrastructure in their maintenance contractor regulations.
3 Consequences of the Solutions
Risk analysis often starts with identifying risks and the factors that contribute to it. The risks that resulted in the Hilversum derailment were determined and possible solutions provided. The outcomes provide insights to the analysis and management of railway switch or turnout systems where their contributory, causal and immediate factors have to mitigate or control the realization of high consequences or probability of risk events (Dindar & Kaewunruen, 2017). An effective mechanism to either reduce friction between the switch panels, or prevent it completely, would help to reduce wear and tear, flange-back contact and, consequently, less derailments or accidents in extreme cases. At the same time, better communicatio
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