HORDORF, Germany, Jan 30, 2011 (AFP) - German accident investigators began Sunday probing the cause of a head-on crash between a regional passenger train and a freight train that killed 10 people and injured 40.
Interior Minister Holger Hovelmann warned against jumping to conclusions after the head of the regional government blamed human error as the likely cause of the crash.
|A police officer walks along the railway track in front of the collision damaged locomotive of the freight train at the scene of the accident. AFP|
Wolfgang Boehmer told journalists that the disaster late Saturday night was probably caused by one of the trains ignoring a red stop light on the section of single track where the crash occurred at high speed.
"It's likely the stop signal wasn't respected. It's not normal that two trains were running on the same track," Boehmer said.
Federal police official Ralf Krueger told a press conference however that accident investigators had yet to reach a conclusion.
"The inquiry has been opened. The conclusion will be made public as soon as possible.....The signal system must obviously be checked out," Krueger said.
The trains smashed into each other head on at around 10:30 pm (2130 GMT) Saturday on a single section of the rail line at Hordorf, near Magdeburg in Germany's eastern Saxony-Anhalt.
Krueger said the trains smashed into each other "at considerable speed" and that visibility was poor because of fog.
The regional train, which derailed and landed on its side, was the HarzElbeExpress (HEX) travelling between Magdeburg and Halberstadt carrying 50 passengers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel sent her condolences to the families of the victims.
Some of the injured were in a critical condition early Sunday, police said.
The twisted remains of the passenger train lay on its side on the track early Sunday, with shards of glass, metal and seats ripped out by the speed of the crash scattered nearby.
The driver of the goods train, owned by private company Peine Salzgitter AG, "is making no statements for the moment," said local police official Armin Friedrichs.
Only two of the victims had been identified during the night.
"It's not easy. Many of the victims had no identity documents on them," said Friedrichs.
Germany has been hit by several deadly train accidents in the past few years.
In 2006, 23 people were killed and 10 injured when an experimental magnetic suspension Transrapid train crashed at 170 kilometres an hour (over 100 mph) on a test track at Lathen in northwest Germany in a collision with an inspection vehicle.
Three years earlier six people died and 25 were injured in June 2003 in a frontal collision between two regional trains near Schrozberg in the southwest of the country.
But the worst postwar train disaster occurred on June 3, 1998 when an InterCity Express (ICE) travelling from Munich in the south to Hamburg in the north hit a bridge and derailed, killing 101 and injuring 88 at Eschede in northern Germany.
Last August 15 people were injured when an ICE high-speed train travelling from Frankfurt to Paris hit a garbage truck near Lambrecht in southwest Germany.