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New Technology Could Make Trains Safer

Statistically, trains are the safest mode of transportation. But the U.S. Department of Transportation is testing new technology to limit casualties when crashes occur. Mil Arcega narrates.

The intentional train wreck was not as dangerous as it looked. It was staged by the U.S. Department of Transportation to test new technology it hopes will make trains safer. Researchers crashed a five-passenger-car train going more than 48 kilometers an hour into a locomotive with two freight cars.

Engineer David Tyrell says everything went smoothly - for a train wreck. "In this test all these wheels stayed on the track. Everything remained in line. The track is fine."

The goal of the crash was to test a new crush zone at the end of the train car. The zone would be a one-meter box that would collapse during a collision and absorb energy. The goal is to reduce the impact a crash would have on the front car and prevent cars from jackknifing. This technology is currently being implemented in some high-end automobiles.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta believes these improvements will save lives. "This new system will more than double the speed at which passengers can survive a train crash."

The test train also had new interior safety measures to soften the blow to a passenger's body during the crash.

Patty Hudson was injured in a California train crash last year that killed eleven people. "Some piece of the train had impaled me in the back,” she recounted.

Train safety is also a concern internationally -- especially in highly populated countries such as India, where passengers cram onto commuter trains. Crashes in India, Pakistan and Japan killed hundreds of people in the last year.