Lathen train collision
|Date||22 September 2006|
|Location||Lathen, Lower Saxony|
|Rail line||Lathen - Dörpen test track|
|Type of incident||Collision|
|Trains||1 + MOW vehicle|
The Lathen train collision occurred on 22 September 2006 when a Transrapid magnetic levitation (or "maglev") train collided with a maintenance vehicle near Lathen, Germany, killing 23 people. This was the first ever fatal accident on a maglev train.
The Transrapid 08 was still doing trial runs, but it did carry passengers along a 31.8-kilometre (19.8 mi) test track to demonstrate the maglev technology. The Emsland test track runs from Lathen, near where the accident occurred, to Dörpen, with a loop at each end, and a depot side track near the southern loop. Speeds of up to 450 km/h (280 mph) are reached on the test track.
Maglev trains use powerful magnets to keep them just above the tracks. Currently the only Transrapid maglev in commercial operation is a Transrapid line in Shanghai, linking Pudong International Airport with the outskirts of the city.
|Wikinews has related news: Transrapid collision in Germany kills 23|
Every morning a wheeled diesel-powered maintenance vehicle ran across the tracks to check them for debris. When these works are finished, it has to wait before the last turnout. There were two workers on the maintenance vehicle who radioed the line dispatcher for clearance to leave the track but they did not get a response. They were unaware of a test run scheduled that morning which was to be half an hour earlier than usual carrying visitors from associated companies - including employees at Transrapid, workers from a local nursing care company and workers from local utility company RWE.
The maglev train was boarded according to usual routine. The train left the station at 09:43 going for a brake test first. After that it had to wait for clearance from the line dispatcher. The line dispatchers energized the tracks at 09:52 and one line dispatcher radioed the maglev train to proceed. No communication with the maintenance vehicle is recorded. The transrapid used its high acceleration to achieve the 170 km/h that was common for the first test round before trying 450 km/h on the following test rounds.
About 57 seconds after the start of the train at 09:53 an emergency braking is recorded. The maglev train hit the maintenance vehicle less than 0.56 seconds (25 metres) later at a speed of 162 km/h. The lightweight design of the transrapid caused it to dive under the heavy (60 tonne) maintenance vehicle, ripping off the roof of the maglev train. The wreckage went for another 300 meters on the track before coming to a halt.
There were twenty-three fatalities and ten severe injuries. The two-man crew of the maintenance vehicle were among the survivors as they were at the opposite end of the vehicle. They even managed to save three survivors from the Transrapid by removing the bottom panel when they heard them knocking underneath. The maintenance vehicle and the front cars of the maglev train were otherwise destroyed, also killing the train driver on the spot. Two engineers sitting in the rear section of the maglev could escape as well, only three other passengers could be saved later by cutting through the remains of the maglev train. None got off unscathed.
Immediately after the accident, German transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee held an emergency meeting with representatives from Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp, the two companies jointly responsible for the Transrapid. He commented afterwards that "major safety failings" were the clear cause of the accident, and that two key questions that required answers were "Whether the Transrapid's safety measures were adequate, and whether they were applied on the test track" where the accident took place. He also promised an independent inquiry.
German authorities conducted an investigation into the accident. Head of operators at the test track operator, IABG, Rudolf Schwarz said, "This accident would not have been possible if all regulations were adhered to." According to IABG, the crew of the maintenance vehicle, which clears the test track of debris and dirt every morning, was supposed to call the line dispatcher by radio once the work was finished. German police, therefore, suspected human error as the likely cause of the accident. Prosecutors have obtained and examined radio transcripts from the vehicles involved.
In May 2008, a court in the city of Osnabrück concluded that the tragedy was caused by a chain of human errors, including the failure to set an electronic braking system that would have prevented the train from operating while maintenance work was being carried out. Two staff members were found guilty on 23 counts of manslaughter and 11 counts of causing negligent injury, and were fined 24,000 and 20,000 euros respectively. The line dispatcher who radioed the clearance to the maglev train, was unable to take part in the trial because of suicide fears. The trial of the line dispatchers was held years later resulting in convictions of one year and six months in one case, and one year in the other case - both convictions were put on probation, as both defendants were exceptionally remorseful, both were still mentally ill, and at the time of the sentence they were both retired - they accepted the verdict immediately.
- Eschede train disaster - high-speed train crash in Germany in 1998
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