Train accident in Garmisch: investigators continue to look for the cause

Traffic is rolling again in Garmisch, at least away from the rails. The autobahn is free again, as is the main road. But parts of the regional train are still on the tracks. Last Friday it derailed in the Burgrain district, five people died and dozens were injured. The wagons, some of which lay on the slope as if thrown by giants, have now been recovered. The locomotive and another wagon are waiting on Thursday to be transported over the rails from the north. To do this, however, the track must first be repaired in the coming days, so that a rail crane can travel to the scene of the accident. This has not yet been fully released by the police.

The clean-up work at Garmisch-Partenkirchen will probably drag on for a while – and even more so the search for the why. In view of the complexity of the matter, quick answers are not to be expected, despite the effort that has been made to date. According to the police headquarters in Oberbayern Süd, around 40 investigators are involved in the case, not including external experts and the rescue personnel at the scene of the accident. One wants to talk to as many train occupants as possible, says a spokesman: The engine driver, for example, has already been heard. The wagons that have already been secured were stored not far from the scene of the accident so that experts could inspect them. From the combination of witness statements and technical investigations, it is hoped that the course of the accident can be “detailedly” understood.

Meanwhile, the Munich II public prosecutor’s office is continuing to investigate three Deutsche Bahn employees on initial suspicion of negligent homicide. As in all other cases, the presumption of innocence applies until the final conclusion of the proceedings. The search for the cause itself has so far focused on technical defects, although their potential range is wide. Experts are correspondingly cautious. Markus Hecht, professor at the Technical University of Berlin, suspects defective tracks. “Actually, the only possible cause is a track fault,” he said business week. This could be due to a maintenance error, for example. To put it simply, the tracks gradually deform due to the weight of the trains. If the discrepancies found are not remedied immediately, the affected passages are declared to be speed restrictions. A photo of the scene of the accident also shows a bent track – which was probably only deformed so clearly visibly by the accident itself, by the swerving of the double-decker cars, which weighed several tons.

The slow-moving sections are evidence of the need for rehabilitation

Thomas Strang, an expert in communication and navigation at the German Aerospace Center, on the other hand, advocates thinking about additional security measures. Of course, a person usually contributes to such accidents “by overlooking something,” he told the German Press Agency. However, the mistake of an individual should not lead to an accident. The fundamental error is therefore in the system, in the lack of redundancies. The many designated slow-speed routes show that there is a need for rehabilitation.

Despite all the uncertainties as to what part the rail infrastructure contributed to the accident, its condition still fuels old disputes. Improvements have often been demanded for the Werdenfelsbahn: the “high frequency of trains” there repeatedly leads to quality problems, according to a petition by the Pro Bahn passenger association from 2020. In general, industry representatives have been calling for more measures to expand and maintain the rails nationwide for years on, the mobility turnaround should succeed. However, there is a lack of skilled workers, among other things, and the network is already at its limit in many places without any construction sites.

In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the dismay is great even days after the accident. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, which is why the state government has ordered mourning flags to be displayed in all of its official buildings in Bavaria for this day. Four women and a 13-year-old were killed in the serious accident. According to police, another woman is still in critical condition in the hospital. The railway line will remain closed until further notice.

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