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Transport by rail. Safe transport.

Thanks to a combination of a highly reliable signalling system (which ensures a safe distance between consecutive trains) and automatic train control systems (ATB or ETCS) rail is an extremely safe means of transport.

Thanks to a combination of a highly reliable signalling system (which ensures a safe distance between consecutive trains) and automatic train control systems (ATB or ETCS) which intervene in the event that a driver fails to observe a signal or exceeds the applicable speed limit, rail is an extremely safe means of transport. Furthermore, the wagons which DB Cargo uses for the carriage of dangerous goods are subject to additional requirements in terms of their robustness. And finally, regular inspections of both locomotives and wagons by an independent authority ensure that the means of transport used remain in sound working order.

Legal requirements

The legal requirements that DB Cargo has to comply with are particularly stringent and unambiguous. It is clearly defined which authorities bear responsibility for drawing up rules and regulations, and which check to ensure that carriers actually observe them. The object of such rules and regulations is to minimise both the risks involved and any nuisance caused in the surrounding area, while simultaneously vouching for the safety of the railway system and its users. These rules and regulations are based on four coherent components.

The first of these is the Railways Act, which prescribes the conditions with which a rail carrier (i.e. DB Cargo) has to comply in order to be admitted to the rail network. For instance, the Railways Act states first and foremost that a rail carrier has to be recognised by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment as a bona fide transport firm. This involves compliance with numerous criteria, such as creditworthiness, expertise and good conduct.

Furthermore, in order to actually operate, a rail carrier has to acquire a safety certificate from the Living Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT). The ILT monitors rail safety. Only those rail carriers which comply with a vast range of technical and safety standards are actually awarded such a certificate. The professional competence of the carrier’s workforce and technical characteristics of its equipment play a crucial role in this regard. A special endorsement on the certificate is also required if the carrier is to be permitted to convey dangerous goods. The certificate remains valid for a limited period of time, which implies that the carrier (DB Cargo also therefore) is obliged to submit timely applications for extension. A thorough inspection is then carried out by an independent body to establish whether there are suitable grounds for extension of the safety certificate.

Thirdly, the Railways Act also prescribes that DB Cargo has to conclude an access agreement with the infrastructure management body, ProRail. This access agreement lists the rights and obligations of both the carrier and the infrastructure management body. For instance, infrastructure management body may set particular requirements pertaining to the routes to be taken, the speed limit, the type of stock used, the noise level generated, and the sorts and quantities of dangerous goods carried, etc. DB Cargo in turn may insist that the railway line is technically sound, that the agreed train paths have been safely designed (‘conflict-free scheduling’) and that it should never be forced to stop or wait unnecessarily.

However, DB Cargo also remains subject to other legislation: The Carriage of Dangerous Goods Act is of a general nature, and also applicable to inland navigation and road haulage. In addition to a number of general provisions, such as the legal obligation to report incidents, this act contains the guideline applicable to the various modes of transport in separate chapters. The VSG (Dutch abbreviation of Regulation on the Rail Transport of Dangerous Substances) which applies to the rail sector, is almost entirely based on the internationally applicable RID (Règlement International concernant le transport des marchandises Dangereuses par chemin de fer). The VSG also classifies all chemical and mineral products eligible for carriage. Furthermore, it provides precise details of all the technical requirements applicable to the packaging of chemical products – and therefore also the railway wagons carrying them.

Independent monitoringThe entire rail sector is subject to independent monitoring in the Netherlands. The ILT checks on behalf of the Dutch government whether the entire rail sector (i.e. both carriers and the infrastructure management body) observes the statutory safety regulations and procedures. Among the measures that the Inspectorate regularly applies in the performance of its duties are unannounced inspections of train cabs, targeted random checks on the technical state of repair of the rail tankers used, but also speed checks. The ILT operates as an independent agency within the Ministry of Transport, and reports directly to the Secretary General.