VBZ testing airbags on Zurich trams after spate of fatal accidents

VBZ testing airbags on Zurich trams after spate of fatal accidents

Following a spate of fatal accidents, Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich (VBZ) has confirmed that it was thinking of adding external airbags to its trams. The public transport provider noted that the number of medical emergencies involving trams has been steadily increasing in recent years, with local officials now calling on the company to act.

Tram accidents in Zurich on the rise

According to VBZ, 675 accidents involving trams were reported in the city of Zurich in 2023, the most seen in the last six years. Of these, the majority are accidents caused by trams starting and stopping, followed by incidents involving tram doors.

The prevalence of these incidents was brought to a head in March 2024, when three people were fatally injured by trams in Zurich in the space of just one week. This led to demands from elements of the local council for VBZ to make trams safer. “In recent years, accidents involving personal injuries have increased steadily. People are crushed by trams and die. We cannot stand idly by,” noted SVP local councillor Michele Romagnolo.

VBZ testing new airbags on Zurich trams

Now, VBZ has confirmed that with the help of tram manufacturer Alstom, it was testing whether equipping trams with an external airbag would make them safer - the project started in December 2021, but recent incidents brought the trials to public and media attention. Already in use on Zurich’s oldest trams, the inflatable bag is attached to the front of the vehicle and deploys should someone walk in front of the tram while it is in motion. 

Upon activation via a sensor or through a signal from the driver, the bag expands and acts as a snowplough. This is designed to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from falling under the tram and push them out of harm's way. 

Airbags should prevent the worst injuries, union argues

“In head-on tram accidents, people first hit their heads on the window and then fall to the ground…An airbag pushes a person away and largely prevents the impact,” noted tram driver and Tranfair union president Heinz Schulthess. He added that while it would not prevent accidents altogether, it should prevent the most serious injuries.

VBZ confirmed that it will continue to test the technology in the coming weeks. The end of the trial, and a decision on whether to roll out the technology city-wide, is expected this summer.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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