I just returned from a trip to Belgium and France—this just a week or so before the latest spate of train derailments (in Spain first, followed by Switzerland). As lawyers, we are always looking for ways to help clients avoid undue risk and these two catastrophic accidents crystallized thoughts that I had during my trip.
On a relatively short train excursion from Bruges to Brussels, I was standing, sandwiched with lots of others, between cars, as there were absolutely no seats to be had. A couple of days later on the fast train from Brussels to Paris, I briefly considered what might occur were our beautifully appointed speeding bullet somehow to launch off the track.
Which got me thinking: Why no seat belts on trains?
The experts tell us that train travel is exceptionally safe. But so, today, is flying on a major airline anywhere in the U.S. or Europe. All planes not only have seat belts, they have signs telling you when you must buckle up and flight attendants to hound you if you don’t.
So what really is the difference between planes and trains? Not much– except that it seems we retain this romantic view of trains (born in an era that has long since past). It was then that the giant locomotives puttered along at a relative snails pace while the ever- present, jaw-dropping scenery gave us pause to consider how truly breathtaking and relaxing travel could be.
The truth is that the Europeans, at least, have historically only focused briefly on the no-seat-belts-on trains issue after train accidents have occurred.
No surprise, until now.
Now we have the video of the Spanish fast train careening around the tracks–reportedly at 195 Kilometers per hour—and the utter and complete devastation that follows. That highly disturbing video has been replayed countless times on the web and on 24 hour news stations globally.
What is to be done?
Let the market decide. Give consumers the choice. Equip half of all fast train cars (to start) with seat belts and leave half without. Charge consumers an extra Euro or two for use of a seat belt. I suspect, but don’t know, that visitors to Europe such as myself, who will never abandon trains as the preferred mode of travel there, will enthusiastically embrace use of a seat belt. Who knows, we might even persuade our European brethren to do the same.