Eighty injured in head-on collision of German trains

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The Independent Online

More than 80 people were injured, nine seriously, when two trains packed with commuters and schoolchildren collided yesterday morning in southern Germany. Automatic brakes averted a fatal disaster.

More than 80 people were injured, nine seriously, when two trains packed with commuters and schoolchildren collided yesterday morning in southern Germany. Automatic brakes averted a fatal disaster.

German national railway officials said the head-on collision on a stretch of single track appeared to have been caused by one of the engineers overlooking a stop signal when he pulled out of a station in the village of Enzisweiler, near the Austrian border.

A pupil on board one of the trains said he and his brother could see a faster-moving train coming down the track at them. "I got up and ran towards the back," said Felix Kling, 14. But there was little either train driver could do to prevent the crash at that point, he said. "They could brake a little but no one could do more."

Lydia Gloeckler, a passenger who had been travelling on the line for 30 years, said: "There was a big bang and I was thrown from my seat along with many children. Then the door was locked. It was stuck and we could not get out. The children were screaming and we were in panic."

The trains were carrying about 150 schoolchildren and morning commuters each. Both were travelling at moderate speeds when the accident happened and neither derailed, although the cars were damaged enough that rescuers had to pry passengers from the wreckage.

According to the railway authorities, one regional train originating from Lindau, on Lake Constance on the border with Switzerland, departed from the station of Enzisweiler at 7.30am. It was only 200 yards out of the station when the other train, arriving from nearby Friedrichshafen, ploughed into it.

Both locomotives were wrecked in the collision, but the passenger carriages remained standing.

Some 300 workers took part in the rescue operation, backed by emergency services from Austria and Switzerland, and 10 doctors were called to the scene. German and Swiss helicopters flew the most seriously injured to hospital. Those with light injuries were treated in makeshift tents erected at the station. The children who escaped injury were fetched by buses and taken to their schools.

Prosecutors in the nearby town of Kempten have charged the driver of the train from Lindau with negligence. According to Elmar Lechner, a prosecutor, he had ignored a stop sign. The judicial investigation is expected to take nine weeks.

Meanwhile, the agency supervising rail safety in Bavaria has begun a technical investigation. Although the track and the trains were not of the most modern type, they had been fitted with prescribed safety equipment, said Ingo Jergens, an official of the agency.

Both trains had automatic brakes, which spring into action when a driver travels through a red light. The initial investigation found that they had worked, but had only slowed the trains and failed to stop them completely.

Electronic technology that would have prevented such an accident was due to be fitted on the trains next year.

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