New fire safety activities for buses

Following the bus fire catastrophe near Hannover, Germany, with 20 deaths in November 2008, many activities have started to improve the existing fire safety level of materials and components used in buses. The Bunsen burner test on horizontal flame propagation on small samples to FMVSS 302, the small flame test on curtains (ISO 6941), and the dripping test for ceilings (NF P 92505) prescribed in the European Directive 95/28/EC are now seen to no more provide satisfactory fire safety in buses.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE, Section Transport is working on improving the safety of road vehicles. The Working Party 29 on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) is working on amending the fire safety levels in buses, which are laid down in Regulation No. 118, identical to the EU Directive 95/28/EC.

The Nordic countries are also involved in this topic since many years. In 2006, a study on fire safety in buses was presented by SP, the Technical Research Institute of Sweden, on behalf of the Swedish Road Administration and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. The fire testing programme was based on international fire performance tests developed by the International Standardization Organisation ISO. The tests, which are currently being introduced in the EU for high speed trains and on an international level for ships, address parameters in a developing fire such as horizontal flame spread for surface linings (ISO 5658-2) and floorings (EN ISO 9239-1), smoke development and toxicity of fire  gases (smoke chamber to ISO 5659-2).

The conclusions of the study are that the existing fire safety requirements do not guarantee a satisfactory fire safety level on buses:

- Reason: test method and criteria (FMVSS 302) do not properly discriminate between materials with high or low fire safety performance.

- Consequence: fire safety performance of the interior materials and furnishings of certain bus types may be unacceptably low.

An acceptable fire safety level can be reached when fulfilling the higher fire safety requirements based on the ISO tests used in the study.

At the last meeting of GRSG in Geneva end of October 2009, proposals were made to amend the Regulation No.118:

- France and Germany have proposed to improve the fire safety of buses by reducing the flame propagation values from 100 mm to 75 mm/min in the FMVSS 302 test, and to include a Bunsen burner test for the burning behaviour of electric cables to ISO 6722:2006.

- Norway and Sweden propose to take over the tests and fire safety requirements described in the SP study.

In the future, the current EU Directive 95/28 CEE will become obsolete and be supplemented by the amended Regulation No. 118. The Nordic countries approach proposing the fire tests for high speed trains and passenger ships has good chances to be taken over.