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Eschede, Germany
ICE High Speed Train Disaster
This article is dedicated to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims of ICE 884 to whom I extend my sincere sympathy.

Class 401 ICE power car at Munich
Class 401 ICE power car at Munich Main station
Photo: Eike M. Belgardt
More ICE pix at European Railserver
contents
  • the accident
  • what went wrong
  • analysis
  • the train
  • links
  • Text-only version

  • The article is based on a variety of sources. All opinions expressed here are my own and in no way represent those of any individual, company or government department associated with the train or the accident.
    the accident
    Deutsche Bahn AGIt had never happened before. In seven years of service, no one had ever been killed on an ICE. The super-fast, state-of-the-art Inter City Express trains of Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) had covered hundreds of thousands of kilometres over a network of lines connecting important centres in Germany and Austria. Many thousands of passengers had reached their destinations safely.
    All this tragically changed on the morning of Wednesday June 3, 1998 near a small town in Lower Saxony.
    ICE Route map (click to enlarge) It was 5.47am when ICE 884, WILHELM CONRAD RÖNTGEN rolled out of Munchen Hautbahnhof and accelerated through the suburbs of Munich. In a little over six hours, having travelled through the heart of Germany, passengers could expect to alight from the train in the centre of Hamburg. They were travelling in the comfort and security of an Inter City Express (ICE), one of Germany's most up-to-date trains, capable of reaching 250km/h.
    On board the ICE trains, facilities are second to none. At each seat passengers may choose to listen to no less than five radio programmes. Refreshments and newspapers papers are available from the Restaurant car. Here, passengers can also enjoy a meal from the a la carte menu. Those in first-class receive complimentary newspapers and service is available at their seats. The majority of the twelve car train is non-smoking, except for two cars situated at either end -one first class, the other second. These carriages also offer passengers the option of watching a video from a choice of two programmes. A telephone is also available in the first class carriage. To these facilities and the speed, add reliability and an impeccable safety record and it can be seen how the ICEs have contributed to a renaissance in German Railways. Since their introduction seven years ago, rail travel in Germany has increased by over thirty percent.
    After a three minute stop, ICE884 left Hannover station at 1033. Passengers settled down for the last leg of its journey. In less than an hour and a half, they would be entering Hamburg's main station.
    They had been going for barely twenty minutes and were about 6km from Eschede when passengers in the centre part of the train felt an unusual shaking sensation. This lasted for a minute or so and then stopped. It is unlikely that anyone thought any more about it.
    Then, as the lead power car emerged from beneath a road over-bridge, two kilometres from Eschede station, the driver felt a "tug" on his locomotive. On looking backwards he saw that his train was no longer following him. Instead, the horrifying reality that greeted him was carriages in total disarray, spread crazily across the track. He would have become quickly aware that the traction motors had stopped and that the brakes had been automatically applied. He may have been confused as to why the regenerative braking system was inoperative and that only the mechanical disc brakes were functioning. By the time the solitary power car had come to rest, it was standing in Eschede station.

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    what went wrong
    As his cab passed under the bridge, the driver could not have been aware of the drama that was being played out behind him. Even as he looked back, sveral hundred metres further on, it is unlikely that he could appreciate the scale of the disaster. What he would have seen was the first three cars
    Eschede ICE disaster
    Arial view of the destruction at Eschede
    of his train, about three hundred metres from the bridge, although derailed, reasonably intact. The fourth car may have escaped his attention altogether as this had travelled to the right, across the tracks coming to rest amongst trees by the line-side. Car 5 had been severed by the falling bridge, the front half coming to rest about 100 metres beyond it.
    Back at the bridge, it was all too apparant that something dreadful had taken place. Cars six and seven were severely damaged, resting almost parallel to the bridge. Cars 8 and 9 (the service and restaurant cars) were buried under the concrete decking of the bridge and the remainder of the train had piled into the wreckage in concertina fashion. Only the rear power car remained reasonably intact.
    In the first few hours after the crash, there was considerable speculation about the cause and attention focussed on a car which was amongst the wreckage. News reports speculated that this had fallen from the bridge, perhaps as the result of a road accident and that, straddling the tracks, it had caused the train to derail. These reports completely ignored the available evidence. The most important being that the lead power car escaped any damage. Thus, the road vehicle could not have been present on the line when the train passed.
    A much more feasible cause began to emerge following the discovery, some six kilometres before the bridge of part of a train wheel tyre.
    ICE wheel
    ICE 1 sets were originally fittted with monobloc wheels. However, vibration which was transmitted throught the steel spring suspension units caused a redesign of the wheels to include a seperate "tyre" with a rubber strip to reduce the vibration.
    It was at around this point that passengers had experienced the unusual noise and ride quality. The broken tyre had come from the leading axle of the rear bogie of the first car. The train continued in this condition until it reached a turnout approximately 300m from the bridge. Here, the flange of the broken wheel caught in a guide and derailed the coach to the right. A little more than 100m further on was another turnout. This caused the next car to derail which in turn forced car 3 off the line. Perhaps under the influence of the pushing effect of the rear power car, car 3 slewed far enough from s straight line to cause it to come into contact with and demolish a central support of the bridge. The train separated between the third and fourth car. The bridge did not collapse completeley until after the fourth car had passed under it. When it did fall, it fell onto the fifth car cutting it in half.
    The casualty toll might have been higher had the train been carrying passengers nearer to its capacity. However, with 101 people killed and and a further 88 injured, it still has become the worst accident on German Railways since 1947.

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