German train crash

Braking system designed to prevent collisions

The rescue operation was complicated because the forest crash site was difficult to access. At least 10 people were killed in Tuesday's crash near Bad Aibling.
The rescue operation was complicated because the forest crash site was difficult to access. At least 10 people were killed in Tuesday's crash near Bad Aibling.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Investigators to look into whether mechanism failed; search for bodies completed

BAD AIBLING (Bavaria) • The authorities are investigating how two commuter trains with automatic braking systems to prevent accidents collided head-on in southern Germany on Tuesday, leaving at least 10 dead and dozens injured.

Police said in a statement all bodies had been recovered from the wreckage and there are "no more missing people".

The police also confirmed that 17 people were severely injured and 63 others slightly hurt in Tuesday's collision near the southern spa town of Bad Aibling.

Two trains travelling at high speeds crashed head-on on a single track, with one slicing the other apart, ripping a large gash in its side.

Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the line was fitted with an automatic braking system that should have prevented such accidents, and investigators were probing whether the mechanism malfunctioned or whether there had been human error.

"One train was jammed into the other and the carriage of the second train was completely torn apart," he said, explaining that the trains smashed into each other at high speed and that the drivers probably did not see each other until the last minute because the crash happened at a curve.

The impact of the crash ripped a hole in the side of the second train. Blue, yellow and silver metal debris was strewn around the crash site next to a river in the state of Bavaria.

Newspaper group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschand, citing sources close to the investigation, said a signalling station worker had manually deactivated the automatic signalling system to let the first train - which was running late - go past.

The second train then forged ahead on the same track in the opposite direction, before the first was able to split off where the line divides into two.

The Bild newspaper said manually disabling the signalling would have deactivated the automatic braking systems. Regional police refused to comment.

Two of the trains' black boxes have been recovered, while investigators are still looking for a third.

Police said 10 people had lost their lives in the crash just after 7am. The trains' two drivers and two conductors were among those killed, local broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "dismayed and saddened" by the accident.

"My sympathy goes out especially to the families of the people who have lost their lives," she said in a statement.

The police chief for the Upper Bavaria region, Mr Robert Kopp, said the trains were carrying about 150 passengers, fewer than on a regular work day as many people were off for the region's winter holidays.

Some 700 firefighters, emergency services workers and police officers were deployed in the rescue operation, which was complicated because the forest crash site was difficult to access. Helicopters hoisted up the injured on stretchers.

A passenger named as Patrick B. told local radio Rosenheim 24 that shortly after leaving the station of Kolbermoor, "the train suddenly braked, there was a loud noise and the light went out".

He said he "heard people shouting for help everywhere" and, together with a young man, he opened the carriage door using the emergency system.

Stefano, 24, a passenger, told Bild newspaper that the accident began with a sudden "screech, like with an emergency brake".

"Then there was a real crash. It was damn loud. The back of the train was thrust up. The lights went out and I was thrown across half the train. I was so scared that I was going to die. Next to me, a man was flung head-on against a window pane. He was around 45 to 50 years old. I saw how he died," he recounted.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Braking system designed to prevent collisions'. Print Edition | Subscribe