The Brühl train disaster happened on 6 February 2000 in the Brühl, Germany, railway station on the West Rhine railway. A train negotiated a low speed turnout at three times the correct speed and derailed, killing 9 people.
At the time of the accident, the Brühl railway station was a minor station on the double-tracked West Rhine railway line with one passing siding on each side of the through tracks. The station is equipped for limited bi-directional running: the passing sidings had exit signals on both ends, while the through tracks had exit signals only for the main direction. Therefore, a train passing the station on the opposite track had to go through the passing siding, unless a specific written order was issued.
The through tracks are rated for operation at 160 km/h (100 mph), while the switches into the passing sidings are rated for 40 km/h (25 mph).
On the night of the accident, the track running south was closed for maintenance work in the Brühl Güterbahnhof (Brühl goods/freight station) north of the passenger station. Trains going south switched to the opposite track at Hürth Kalscheuren. Since the entry signal of Brühl could only show green-yellow (Hp2, "proceed with low speed") aspect when the route switches to the main signals in the Güterbahnhof part (the opposite track didn't have any "destination signal" from the view of the tower like the other tracks have), all trains on the left track received a substitute signal Zs1, limiting the speed to 40 km/h till the next main signal. In addition, the engineers' paperwork that night contained two slow orders:120 km/h for the track running north, irrelevant to trains on this track running south because of the speed limit imposed by the substitute signal
90 km/h for the track running south, relevant for the time after construction would be finished and valid only for the regular (right) track where the work took place.
Before the accident, several trains had passed the construction site as well as the passing track at Brühl without incident, despite the possibly conflicting speed restrictions.
When train D 203 "Schweiz-Express" Amsterdam–Basel entered the station area, the engineer had slowed the train to 40 km/h as required. He then accelerated the train to 90 km/h. After clearing the construction site, he accelerated further. When the train reached the switch into the passing siding, it was travelling at 122 km/h, three times the speed the switch was designed for. The locomotive derailed and slid down the embankment into a house. Some coaches followed the locomotive, while others slid over the platform and crashed into the support beams of the platform roof. Of the train's 201 passengers, 9 died and 149 were injured.
With regard to the accident, four persons were tried with the charge of "alleged involuntary manslaughter" (fahrlässige Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge) – the train driver, the editor of the driving info, and two persons from the construction planning service. The station director was not sued.
The train driver testified that the driving info and the actual signalling allowed for an interpretation of full 120 km/h. One of the construction planning coordinator testified that he did mention a possible misinterpretation in a meeting allowing for a potential danger.
All four saw abatement of action after 23 days of trial – the judge concluded that the train driver had an instant lapse (Augenblicksversagen) that does not require a major penalty. The others are responsible for a debatable driving info and signalling recommendation which however was correct in theory – they just missed seeing the danger. The financial penalty was between 7,000 DM and 20,000 DM for the defendants to get out of the criminal trial.
Quoting from the investigation report (translated) :
"[page 20] The fact that the operations recommendations included a hint to inform the train drivers by radio (which was unnecessary by the rules [added]) must be taken as an indicator that the editor of the operations recommendations was aware of the problematic situation and that he tried to compensate for the issue. [...] especially a missing appointment on who would be required to take this action, e.g. the train director. Additionally the operations recommendation is faulty as it had swapped the designations of the freight station and the passenger station."
"[page 48] ... it is a principle observation in railway operations that concurrent directives do occur that must be interpreted by situational context. The reconciliation of differing speed advisories is amongst the fundamental intellectual properties that a train driver must accomplish. The basic scheme is to proceed in a way to maximize safety."
"[page 46] The train drivers of the other [preceding] trains that were passing through Brühl station without halting were faced with the same operational conditions as the train driver of D203. Checking the event recorders of the trains a maximum of 48 km/h was observed in passage of Brühl station."
"[page 65] The radio protocols did show [..] there was no communication between train driver and train director [of the station]."
"[page 19] given the number of 69 trains it would have been necessary to install a possibility to control the speed with an inductive train protection system. Its costs would have been proportionate and reasonable given the overall costs of the constructional measure."
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