German Rail Disaster: Safe and fast across Europe

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The Independent Online
THE Inter City Express train is considered to be the safest train in Germany and part of a fleet of 104 aerodynamic hi-tech trains that can travel at speeds of up to 175mph.

Until yesterday's tragedy, the ICE had an impeccable safety record. The high speed train, introduced in 1991, can carry up to 760 passengers in 14 sound-proofed carriages behind their 13,000 horse-power locomotives.

"There had been no accidents in which passengers were hurt or killed before Wednesday's fatal crash," said Hartmut Sommer, a spokesman for German Railways. "The train is considered to be the safest in Germany."

The distinctive white trains, which have travelled at up to 250mph in tests, use dedicated track to travel on.

Rail travel has made a huge impact on the continent. The tentacles of a high-speed network have already spread across Europe, shrinking the distances between cities.

Spain's AVE trains rarely drop below 130mph and cover the 300 miles between Madrid and Seville in just over two hours. France's TGV race around the country at 185mph - matching the much-vaunted Eurostar's top speed. By 2005, Germany plans to have a "maglev" train zipping along at 250mph on a cushion of air between Hamburg and Berlin.

High-speed trains have dramatically cut travel times and lured travellers away from aeroplanes and roads. In Germany, rail travel is up 35 per cent while air's market share has dropped 10 per cent on competing routes since the ICE was introduced.

The ICE only needs five hours and 40 minutes to travel the 823km between Hamburg and Munich, the journey undertaken by the train before it crashed.

The pounds 18m trains cater for almost every luxury. All seats in the ICEs have headphones providing music and some have video screens. Passengers can make and receive telephone calls or use computerised information terminals in each carriage. The trains are also equipped with a conference centre, restaurant and bar.

Given the apparent cause of the accident, it is unlikely that many will question the safety of the ICEs. Not a single person has died in an accident on the Japanese shinkanzen bullet train - which first started running in 1964.