RSSB study reveals trains are safe to use during Covid-19

Ilaria Grasso Macola 25 August 2020 (Last Updated August 26th, 2020 09:11)

Despite their recent reputation of being hubs for the spread of the coronavirus, trains were recently deemed safe to travel on by the UK Rail and Safety Standard Board.

RSSB study reveals trains are safe to use during Covid-19
The RSSB showed that trains are safe to use during Covid-19. Credit: Steve Jones.

A new study by UK rail safety body the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) on Covid-19 transmission rates on trains has found the railways safe to travel on.

The report showed that the chances of contracting the virus while travelling on a train are extremely low – the risk being one in 11,068 journeys when people are not wearing face coverings. The figure is even lower – one in 19,765 – when wearing face coverings.

“It is important the governments, rail regulator and the industry work together to educate the public and put the risks in context and make them more comfortable using trains again,” commented the Office of Rail and Road chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser.

UK trains remained almost completely empty during the months of lockdown due to the perceived lack of social distancing measures and with a majority of people working from home.

As the number of people who use transport for work and leisure has increased as a result of the easing of lockdown, rail passenger rates are now slowly going back up again.

The study – which was simulated on an hour-long train journey with no social distancing and face masks – used three carriages from Class 800, Class 350 and Class 387 trains as models.

For each of the models, the study followed all passengers operations, testing anything from waiting on the platform to embarking and alighting at different stations.

To reach the estimate of potential cases, researchers combined infection risk data from the Office of National Statistics with data from train operator LNER. They also used a formula to calculate asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic and non-isolating symptomatic cases and took into account contact time and distance.

“In a world with no virus, the risk would be even lower, but our data shows that even with the virus still present in the community, the risk is low enough and tolerable,” said RSSB director of system safety and health Ali Chegini.

“This, together with further research will help reassure people they can travel with confidence which is good for the economy, public finances and the environment,” added Rail Delivery Group director of people, operations and railway strategy Susie Homan.

If the impact of the virus is taken into account and compared against road safety dangers, the likelihood of becoming infected is almost the same. According to the study, for each kilometre travelled, the car is 25 times less safe than rail. “Our analysis suggests going by road won’t offer increased level of overall safety, so the virus shouldn’t influence whether or not people choose to travel by train,” added Chegini.

Compared with other means of transportation, trains are inherently safer. While bicycles and walking are respectively 403 and 456 times more dangerous, the most dangerous means of transportation is the motorcycle, 1,620 time times less safe than trains.