Ten dead as commuter trains collide in Germany

9th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

German authorities were investigating how two commuter trains fitted with automatic braking systems to prevent accidents collided in southern Germany Tuesday, leaving at least ten dead and dozens injured.

Rescuers were still searching for one missing person in the mangled wreckage in a wooded area near Bad Aibling, a spa town about 60 kilometres (40 miles) southeast of Munich, although police said there was now little hope of finding the victim alive.

One of the trains had sliced into the other, ripping its side apart. Blue, yellow and silver metal debris was strewn around the crash site next to a river in the southern state of Bavaria.

Police said 10 people had lost their lives in total, while 18 people were seriously hurt and 63 had light injuries.

The two drivers and two conductors were among those killed, local broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock at the accident that happened shortly after 7:00 am (0600 GMT).

"I am dismayed and saddened by the serious train accident this morning at Bad Aibling," Merkel said in a statement. "My sympathy goes out especially to the families of the nine people who have lost their lives."

Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the rail track was fitted with an automatic braking system aimed at preventing such crashes, and that investigators were probing if there had been "a technical problem or human error".

"One train was jammed into the other and the carriage of the second train was completely torn apart," he said.

Three black boxes on the trains should help shed light on the accident, he said, adding that two had already been recovered, and the third should be found in the course of the day.

The trains collided at high speed on a single track, and the drivers probably did not see each other until the last minute because the crash happened at a curve, said Dobrindt.

"At the moment we will have to wait (for the result of the investigation). Everything else is speculation, and would be unhelpful and inappropriate," he said.

Police chief for the Upper Bavaria region, 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.

- 'People shouting for help' -

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.

"We led passengers onto a slope, and only one man with a broken leg could not be helped out. Shortly after, the first emergency workers arrived."

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.

Rescuers focused on the impact area of the trains, using electric saws to cut through the mangled wreckage, while helicopters hoisted up the injured on stretchers.

Underlining the difficulty of the emergency operation, mountain rescuer Joerg Becker told NTV rolling news channel: "The terrain is not only difficult to access but the large number of injured also requires a massive coordination effort between so many rescue and aid groups."

- 'Deeply shocked' -

"The accident is an enormous shock for us," said Bernd Rosenbusch, who heads the Bavarian rail company BOB that operates trains on the route.

"We will do everything to help travellers, their relatives and our employees."

Christian Schreyer, chief executive of Transdev, said: "We are deeply shocked and stunned that something like this could have happened. Our thoughts are with the victims and families of the victims".

After German rail was liberalised at the end of the 1990s, BOB -- a subsidiary of Transdev, became one of the train operators competing with state-run Deutsche Bahn.

Although it has lost its monopoly operating status, Deutsche Bahn still owns the rail network.

The accident is believed to be Germany's first fatal train crash since April 2012, when three people were killed and 13 injured in a collision between two regional trains in the western city of Offenbach.

The country's deadliest post-war accident happened in 1998, when a high-speed ICE train linking Munich and Hamburg derailed in the northern town of Eschede, killing 101 people and injuring 88.


© 2016 AFP

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