Driver protection is a focus for innovators. By Nicola Anderson

How many of us wanted to be an engine driver as a child? There is a thrill to think of having control of that much power and being responsible for getting so many people to where they need to be. We spend so much passive time on trains, wouldn’t it be nice to be allowed to take the controls, with the view straight ahead down the tracks?

As I type it is Bonfire Night, and I am on the train from Wakefield to London. It is peak firework display time. The driver has the best view of the fireworks of any of us on the train. However, it is a view that he or she is required by necessity to enjoy alone. For while this is an important job, with the rewards of sights such as sunrises and early morning mists, it is also a solitary one. The driver is alone in the cab for what can be long stretches of time. He or she may even be the sole member of staff, on a driver-only train.

This can leave the driver in a vulnerable position. It is not unknown for a driver, for example as has happened on the London Underground, to have his or her cab broken into by brawling passengers. The driver must be protected from such incidents, for their own safety and that of others on the train.

In most types of emergency, it is of paramount importance to protect the driver, freeing them to take appropriate action. In the case of fire for example, he or she can take whatever action by directing and informing passengers.

Improvements to driver safety are therefore of enduring interest. Bombardier Transportation has recently been granted a UK patent, GB2550852, to a blast-resistant partition wall designed to form the barrier between the driver’s cab and the passenger compartment of a train. This wall is intended to improve driver safety by providing a stronger partition between the driver’s cab and the passenger areas of a train. As well as being resistant to fire, the partition wall provides blast and missile resistance, which means it could be useful in a range of emergency situations.

The main claim made in the published patent is that the wall partition has a framework with floor, side and roof sections, which is fastened to the car body. Partition panels of a blast-resistant, missile-resistant and fire-resistant composite material are secured to the framework. This arrangement provides the advantage of transferring blast pressure loads on the partition panels to the car body, limiting damage to the partition, and helping to keep the driver’s cab intact.

This is the broadest protection provided by the patent and appears to give a good range of protection. The claims of the patent application underwent significant amendment whilst the patent application was pending, due to a number of relevant prior art documents being cited. This gives an indication that similar types of strengthened partition walls between the driver’s cab and the passenger compartment are already known, including the idea of a fire-resistant, blast-resistant and missile-resistant partition. In order for the patent to be granted, the claims had to be narrowed to include the structure of the framework and demonstrating that this aspect of the invention makes it new and inventive.

As well as providing a monopoly in the UK for the partition wall, the UK patent means that profits earned from the sale of a car fitted with the partition wall will be eligible for corporation tax relief under the Government’s Patent Box scheme.

In addition to the granted UK patent, Bombardier Transportation is seeking patent protection further afield, with a pending European patent application

Nicola Anderson is a patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers. She advises innovators in the rail sector about how to protect their inventions