Planes, trains and defibrillators: AEDs on public transport


The problem with Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is that it’s just that – sudden. Apparently healthy people can collapse anywhere and at any time, and public transport is no exception.

Why do we need defibrillators on public transport?

In the UK, over 30,000 sudden cardiac arrests happen outside of hospital every year. When this occurs, every minute that passes without defibrillation decreases the chance of survival by 10%. So if you’re between stations on a train, on a plane, or even in a taxi, there’s a very real danger that the patient could die before an ambulance arrives.

However, if the patient is defibrillated within 3 minutes of an SCA, there is a 70% chance of survival. This increases to 90% if the heart is shocked within 1 minute of the SCA.

These statistics reveal one key lesson: the nearer you are to a defibrillator when you have a sudden cardiac arrest, the higher your chances of survival. So the more AEDs in public places such as train stations and airports, as well as onboard the trains and planes themselves, the more lives that could be saved.

Does UK public transport have defibrillators?

Yes, but not nearly enough. At Cardiac Science, we want defibrillators in public places to be as commonplace as fire extinguishers – and there’s a long way to go to achieve that goal.

For instance, there is no legal requirement for defibrillators on planes in UK airspace. But fortunately, nearly all of the UK airlines carry them as standard.

Likewise, the UK rail system has no legal requirement for public access defibrillators. However, Network Rail has installed 247 defibrillators across its main sites, and many operators have placed AEDs in selected stations and on board trains.

In 2016, Eurostar International also decided to install Cardiac Science Powerheart® G5 AEDs across their train fleet, stations, workshops and offices. Meanwhile, London Underground has a total of 214 defibrillators across its network of 150 stations – with eight devices dotted across Bank underground station alone.

Sussex’s example is the one all train operators should be aiming for, though. Thanks to a generous donation by The Sussex Heart Charity, every railway station in the county now has a Powerheart® G5 AED, ready to help save a life at a moment’s notice. You can read more about this story here.

What should I do if someone suffers an SCA on public transport?

If you suspect that someone has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, the first thing to do is call 999 and then start performing CPR, while someone else finds out the location of the nearest public access defibrillator.

The good news is that if there’s a defibrillator nearby, anyone can use it. You don’t need to be medically trained or understand how it works, as the spoken and on-screen instructions will take you through the process step by step.

The defibrillator will do all the hard work – analysing the heart’s rhythm to determine if it’s shockable or not. If the rhythm is shockable, the AED will tell you how to proceed before it shocks the heart. If not, continue CPR until the emergency services arrive.

How would you react if someone had a sudden cardiac arrest on public transport? Test your rescue skills with our ‘Are You Rescue Ready?’ quiz now.

Hands-on CPR

Are you a health and safety professional working in public transportation?

Talk to our experts about AEDs for transport hubs and vehicles today. It might just help you save a life.