Rail operator reassures the public on nation’s train safety

The fastest railway lines are equipped with automatic braking systems which can prevent tragic high speed accidents similar to the one in Spain last week

Automatic braking systems have not been installed on all of Denmark’s railway lines to slow down trains that exceed speed limits, public broadcaster DR reported.

The news arrives following the tragic deaths of 79 people in northern Spain last week when a high speed train derailed after taking a sharp corner at over 180km/h, more than double the allowed speed.

While Banedanmark, the company responsible for maintaining Denmark’s railways, has introduced Automatic Train Control systems (ATC) on many of its main lines that will brake the train if the speed limit is exceeded, on other stretches in the country it remains entirely up to the train driver to stick to the posted speed limit.

But Kirsten Kornerup, the head of quality and safety at Banedanmark, says there is little to worry about.

“We do everything we can to avoid these types of accidents and consider all of our systems in Denmark to be extremely safe,” Kornerup told DR.

The maximum speed limit on the fastest Danish railway lines is 180kmh. If drivers exceed this limit by even a small margin, the ATC will kick in and slow the train down.

ATC was introduced into Denmark in 1988 following an accident in which eight passengers died when a train that was travelling 100km/h on a stretch with a 40km/h speed limit derailed near Sorø. 

Train driver Keld Rasmussen has operated the line between Holstebro and Skjern for the past ten years. He calls the ATC system, which is installed on some stretches of his line, "idiot proof".

“Nothing can go wrong unless you become completely detached and deliberately choose to do something illegal,” Rasmussen told DR, adding that safety on the stretches without ATC might actually be safer.

“It is an advantage to drive on stretches where there isn’t automatic protection because then you have to be always on your toes. I have heard about train drivers who only drive on ATC lines who, when they drive on stretches without it, drive past signals because they aren’t receiving automatic warnings.”

A common European train safety system will start being implemented from 2016. Banedanmark expects it to be fully adopted in Denmark by 2021.