Land transport accident investigation bureau (BEA-TT)
A new agency for accident prevention in France
Transport accidents, with their toll in human lives and in certain cases, their spectacular or tragic nature, remind us that people, organisations and equipment remain fallible, in spite of all the progress accomplished in the field of safety.
Why carry out accident investigations of a technical nature?
In the event of such accidents, a two-fold investigation approach is required : a judiciary inquiry to identify liabilities and, if necessary, determine compensations for the victims, and a technical investigation to prevent similar occurrences.
A technical investigation is necessarily separate from a legal inquiry. Its objectives and constraints are not the same : the completion time is much shorter and the information collected must be made public quickly to justify all recommendations made.
The need to quickly involve highly competent and independent investigators, to preserve recollection of facts and to focus on lessons drawn from such situations, have lead to these investigations being entrusted to a permanent specialised bureau.
The completion of a long term process
The two first technical investigatory bodies in France were created in 1946 for the aeronautics sector, and in 1997 for the maritime sector.
No equivalent structure had so far been set up for land transport. In the case of a serious accident such as the one in the Paris "Gare de Lyon" train station in 1988 - 56 fatally injured, or the one in the Mont-Blanc road Tunnel in 1999 - 39 fatally injured, the Minister in charge of Transport set up an ad hoc investigatory commission supported by the Civil Engineering General Council (Conseil Général des Ponts et Chaussées - CGPC).
In the light of the CGPC’s experience, it became apparent that a legal status was required for such technical investigations, in order to guarantee to all investigators access to sites, recordings and information covered by non-disclosure of pre-trial information or professional confidentiality.
The Act of 3 January 2002, passed after the tragic fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel, has supplied the legal basis for all technical investigations. It provides for such investigations to be carried out by permanent specialised bodies and for these bodies to have the right of access to all elements useful to an investigation, even those covered by non disclosure of pre-trial information, and medical or professional confidentiality.
The Act also reaffirms the principles of both investigators’ independence and publishing of the final report. However, the decision to launch a technical investigation comes from the Minister for Transport.
The Decree of 26 January 2004, published pursuant to this Act, officially founded the BEA-TT. This agency is now the organisation dealing with all technical investigations for land transport, along side its seniors the BEAair dealing with aeronautics accidents and the BEAmer with maritime accidents.
The BEA-TT is a body with competency over the whole of France and is lodged with the CGPC. From the beginning, it was granted financial means to discharge its missions and ensure its independence. In 2004, it was authorised a staff of 10 people.
A particularly wide scope of activities
The BEA-TT’s activities cover a wide variety of areas.
The Bureau deals with railway transport, urban guided transportation systems (underground, tramcars), cable haulage systems, road transport (notably heavy goods vehicles and public transport by coach and bus) as well as navigable waterways. Each of these sectors has its own regulations and its own economic, technical, professional and even cultural logic.
Each investigation will also have to scrutinise the occurrence under a multiplicity of angles, be it infrastructure, operations, rolling stock, staff training, medical aspects, regulations, etc.
This diversity in investigations to be conducted necessitates for the BEA-TT to call upon temporary investigators and experts whenever necessary in order to secure all required competencies.
Finally, the BEA-TT will need to promote among the main players of land transport systems, the circulation of all the knowledge that the Bureau and its partners will have acquired through all the accident investigations or the studies they will have carried out. The BEA-TT will also be entitled to launch studies or research on the subject of accidentology.