Deadly Rail Accident in Germany Train Driver Thought to Have Ignored Two Stop Signals
Investigators believe that the driver of a freight train which slammed into a passenger train on Saturday night may have failed to respond to two stop signals. He is under investigation for manslaughter. Ten people died in the crash.
Three days after the horrific train crash on Saturday evening in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt -- a collision which left 10 dead and 23 injured -- investigators suspect that the driver of one of the trains may have failed to respond to two stop signals.
According to a report delivered by Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer to the Transport Committee in German parliament, and quoted by the mass circulation daily Bild on Tuesday, the freight train involved in the crash passed both a warning signal and a stop signal prior to entering a stretch with just a single track. Soon thereafter, the 2,700-ton freight train collided head-on with a passenger train in thick fog not far from Magdeburg.
Public prosecutors said on Monday that they had opened an investigation into the freight train driver, who survived the crash with minor injuries. The driver could ultimately be charged with negligent homicide, negligent bodily harm and endangering rail traffic. Investigators have not yet been able to question the driver, who is said to be in a state of shock. Witnesses claim to have seen the freight train drive through a stop signal.
The report seen by Bild also indicates that the 35-year-old driver of the passenger train, who lost his life in the crash, activated the emergency brake just prior to the collision. By doing so, he managed to "brake the train from ca. 98 km/h to 66 km/h," thus potentially preventing a greater number of deaths. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the freight train braked as well. Analysis of the trains' tachographs -- devices similar to the "black boxes" in airplanes -- is ongoing.
'A Need to Take Action'
According to Ramsauer's report, the signals at the site of the crash were all working properly. Technicians "have established that the track was prepared for the passenger train in accordance with regulations and the signal for the passenger train indicated 'go.'" For the freight train, on the other hand, "the warning signal and the main signal connected to it both showed 'stop,'" according to Bild. Investigators hope to be able to question the freight train driver this week.
The passenger train, which belonged to the privately-owned HarzElbeExpress (HEX), was completely destroyed in the collision. Two of those injured remain in critical condition, including a 10-year-old girl.
Deutsche Bahn on Monday said that it would move ahead with improving safety systems on all single-track lines in the country. "There is a need to take action," said German rail head Rüdiger Grube on public broadcaster ARD on Monday evening. He promised that automatic braking systems will be installed on all single-track lines as necessary. Of the 34,000 kilometers of track belonging to Deutsche Bahn, some 15,000 are single-track lines.
Peter Naumann, head of Germany's leading rail passenger association Pro Bahn, said that such safety systems should have been installed long ago. "That should have been done at the beginning of the 1990s," he said. "In western Germany, such systems have long been standard."
cgh -- with wire reports