German probe blames operator for train crash
Bad Aibling in Bavaria. Source: Wikimedia
A head-on rail collision in southern Germany that killed 11 people and injured more than 80 staff and passengers was caused by a controller’s “terrible human error”, announced prosecutors.
Chief prosecutor Wolfgang Giese said a criminal investigation had been launched against a 39-year-old man on suspicion of “negligent homicide, bodily harm and interference with rail traffic”. The trains collided at 100kmh on a single track near Bad Aibling, around 40 miles southeast of Munich in Bavaria.
Giese said the network’s dispatcher had issued “a special signal which shouldn’t have been given”, overriding the automatic safety stop. After realising his error, the man reportedly made two unsuccessful emergency calls in an effort to stop the trains. “If he had behaved according to the rules, as he was obliged to, the trains would not have collided,” Giese said.
Fellow prosecutor Juergen Branz added: “What we have at the moment is a terrible error in this particular situation.”
Investigators are planning to reconstruct the crash to test their theory of how it occurred. Alcohol, drugs or illness had not played a role in the error, the prosecutor said. The unnamed dispatcher had several years’ experience and now faces up to five years in jail if he is found guilty.
Transport minister Alexander Dobrindt had said there were no indications the crash was caused by a technical failure. Three “black boxes” were found amid the wreckage and they were being analysed by investigator, he added.
The damaged section of track is said to be up to 120 metres long. Several carriages overturned and the trains were left derailed and crushed into each other. Around 500 people were rescued from the wreckage.
One damaged train carriage is yet to be removed. Operator Deutsche Bahn said it was hoped the track would be usable again this week. The state broadcaster ARD has been criticised for showing a video filmed inside the train minutes after the crash.
The video taken by electrical engineer Joe Adediran on his mobile phone was rapidly uploaded to YouTube and also shown on the BBC.
The Bad Aibling crash is the worst German rail accident since January 2011 when 10 people died after a locomotive smashed into a freight train near Oschersleben in Saxony-Anhalt. The driver had ignored two signals. In February 2000, nine passengers were killed when an overnight train from Amsterdam to Basel crashed near Cologne.