Accident report highlights failings at Deutsche Bahn

A report into the accident involving an Inter-City-Express train and a herd of sheep in a tunnel near Fulda earlier this year contains some shocking revelations.

The high-speed train came to rest against the tunnel wall after apparently hitting the sheep that were standing in the tunnel entrance.  At the time, a lot of attention was paid to how the sheep got onto the line in the first place, and the police started an investigation into their owner.  Some reports talked about another train having seen or even hitting a sheep on the line minutes earlier, but then driving on.

The latest report into the accident contains less about those sheep, but a lot more details of the tunnel and its safety precautions – or lack of them.

1. The tunnel does not have CCTV on its mouths, something that has become common on road tunnels even though ICE trains often travel much faster than cars.

2. The Deutsche Bahn manager who was co-ordinating the rescue efforts was apparently given the wrong co-ordinates, and thus arrived later on-site than necessary.

3. There are no fire hydrants at the mouth of the tunnel, so the fire crews would, at first, have to rely on the water in tanks of their vehicles.

4. The driver of a special fire-fighting train was, as the report puts, “not sober”.  The crew had to read the instruction manual before being able to move train.

5. Finally, the tunnel has fire-escape routes built into it.  Unfortunately the fire brigade is not able to open these from the outside as they are locked and Deutsche Bahn will not, according to the report, give them a key.  They can, however, be opened by passengers from the inside.

I was quite shocked when I first read these points, even though I do not travel long distances very often by train.  When I do – whatever the distance – I would like to be able to think that in the event of an accident, help can get through.

Let’s hope that the report gets taken seriously and improvements are made soon.

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