Human error' may have caused German train crash, media say
German authorities were on Tuesday investigating how two commuter trains collided head-on, leaving at least 10 dead and dozens injured, despite having been fitted with automatic braking systems to prevent such accidents.
German media reports said Wednesday that human error was likely to blame for the high-speed crashnear the southern spa town of Bad Aibling, when one of the trains sliced into the other and ripped a hole in its side.
But German police rejected the reports as "pure speculation". "Discard that, we reject that," a spokesman told local broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Newspaper group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschand (RND), citing sources close to the investigation, said a signalling station worker had manually disactivated 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 reported that manually disabling the signalling would have disactivated the automatic braking systems.
Police said they were no longer looking for a missing person in the train crash that has killed 10 and injured dozens in a rural area in southern Germany. Police spokesman Stefan Sonntag said Wednesday that after contacting all hospitals in the region, authorities concluded that there was nobody missing after Tuesday's crash.
Two of the trains' black boxes have been recovered, while investigators are still looking for a third.
Police said 10 people lost their lives in the crash just after 7am (0800 GMT), while 18 people were seriously hurt and 63 others suffered light injuries.
The two drivers and two conductors were among those killed, Bayerischer Rundfunk reported.
Blue, yellow and silver metal debris was strewn around the crash site next to a river in the state of Bavaria.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt had earlier said that investigators were probing whether 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.
The trains smashed into each other at high speed, said Dobrindt, adding that the drivers probably did not see each other until the last minute because the crash happened at a curve.
Police chief for the Upper Bavaria region, Robert Kopp, said the trains were carrying about 150 passengers, fewer than on a regular workday as many people were off for the winter holidays.
A passenger identified 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.
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 helped lift the injured on stretchers.
"The accident is an enormous shock for us," said Bernd Rosenbusch, who heads the Bavarian rail company BOB, which operates trains on the route.
"We will do everything to help travellers, their relatives and our employees."
Christian Schreyer, chief executive of parent company 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 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.