Stéblová train disaster

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Stéblová train disaster
Details
Date14 November 1960 (1960-11-14)
LocationStéblová
Coordinates50°05′21″N 15°45′03″E / 50.08917°N 15.75083°E / 50.08917; 15.75083Coordinates: 50°05′21″N 15°45′03″E / 50.08917°N 15.75083°E / 50.08917; 15.75083
CountryCzechoslovakia
OperatorCzechoslovak State Railways
Incident typeCollision
Statistics
Trains2
Deaths118
Injuries110
Accident location in Czechoslovakia

The Stéblová train disaster was a railway accident that occurred on 14 November 1960 at 17:42 CET at single-track railway in Stéblová in Eastern Bohemia, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). A passenger steam train 608 at speed 55 km/h abreast collided with a diesel railcar 653 at speed 60 km/h. 118 people died as a result of the accident and 110 were injured badly.[1][2]

Trains[edit]

Train 608 drove from Liberec via Hradec Králové to Pardubice, it was hauled by the steam locomotive type 354.7128 from the engine house Hradec Králové and operated by the train driver and an assistant/fireman. Behind the locomotive, were post car type F 9-2236, freight car type Ztr 1-36700, personal car Bi 3-3323, service car Dd 7-2286 and eight more personal cars; the train crew was composed of a head guard, senior conductor, junior conductor, and train attendant. Train 653 drove from Pardubice to the Hradec Králové at distance 22 kilometers, it was composed of the diesel railcar M 131.1272, four personal cars (Blm 5-2338, Blm 5-2333, BDlm 6-6890, BDlm 6-6899) and another diesel railcar M 131.1327 at the train's end. The machine crew was composed of two train drivers accompanied by the head guard and conductor. According to the train diagram, both trains should have passed in the Stéblová station, which has three tracks. At that time, the station was secured by the mechanical equipment with central interlock and mechanical signals in both directions.

Disaster course[edit]

Events before disaster[edit]

Train 653 left Pardubice at 17:22, one minute behind schedule. Train 608 left Hradec Králové at 17:25, seven minutes behind schedule; the Stéblová station dispatcher set the route for train 608 to track number 1 and assigned train 653 to track number 2; this was the reverse of what was usually done. Train 608 arrived at Stéblová station at 17:40; the station dispatcher left the office, but after a while he returned to set the route for train 653. The switchman went away to operate switch number 4 to set up for the future departure of the train 653, and also to lift the crossing gates after train 608 passed through. Meanwhile, the station dispatcher confirmed by telephone with Čeperka (the station from which train 608 arrived) that the track was empty, and then set the route for the train 653 arrival.

What happened next was never clearly explained; the weather was very foggy, with visibility limited to 50 meters. The senior conductor and junior conductors both got down from the train; the senior conductor supposedly saw a green light close to the station office, which would have meant "permission to depart". He informed the junior conductor that he had seen the signal and shouted "Get on, [station dispatcher] gives departure"; he asserted later that he saw only the flash of green light; because of the fog, he was not able to identify the source of the light. It could not have been the station dispatcher, as he was in his office at the time. Though the junior conductor personally did not see the green light, he passed the signal to the locomotive; the head guard also accepted the existence of the green light, although he had not seen it. Some passengers later stated that they also might have seen such a light, but were not absolutely sure.

The source of the green light (if it existed at all) was never determined; the most likely possibility would have been a junior conductor's lantern, as they were equipped with filters in multiple colors, including green.

The train driver (although he did not see the green light) called "departure" and started the train. Just at the moment the train passed the signal, the fireman was putting coal into firebox and discovered the water level was low, so he did not notice that the signal was in the "stop" position, even though checking the signals was part of his duty. Moreover, the head guard likewise overlooked that "stop" signal. Indeed, as he later mentioned, he remembered that train 608 normally passed train 653 at Stéblová station, but he assumed the passing had been moved to the next station.

When the station dispatcher saw that the train had started to move, he rushed out of his office and used a lantern and two whistles to signal "stop by any possible means"; the duty of the senior conductor during departure was to observe signals coming from the station, but he had already begun to check tickets. One of the switchmen jumped on a bicycle and unsuccessfully attempted to catch up with the train; the station dispatcher tried to call a signal box two kilometers away to ask the staff there to stop train 653. However, the signalman had left the box to watch the arriving train 653 and only picked up the phone after the train had passed. Meanwhile, the switchman from the signal box in Stéblová informed the station dispatcher that train 608 had just passed him, leaving the station area.

Collision[edit]

The collision between trains 608 and 653 happened on kilometer 8.055 at 17:42 (some sources says at 17:44). The speed of the steam train 608 was about 55 km/h, train 653 about 60 km/h. Both drivers braked, but it was too late.

The train 608 driver and fireman survived almost unhurt, because the locomotive's construction, especially its long boiler, saved them; the first car (mail) was seriously damaged and derailed. The next car (freight) collided with and demolished the mail car in front of it; the third car (first passenger) was almost totally demolished by the fourth (service) car. The fifth car ran up on the fourth from behind; the remaining seven cars sustained little or no damage.

Train 653 experienced much worse damage, its first railcar was lifted on top of the forward part of train 608's steam locomotive. The first passenger car crashed into the locomotive's side, and next three passenger cars collided with it and were totally crushed; the rearmost railcar cut loose and stayed on the track.

In order to prevent a boiler explosion, the steam machine driver and fireman dumped their firebox on the ground; the hot coals and ashes ignited diesel fuel leaking from the first railcar, and the train burst into flame.

Rescue operation[edit]

The rescue operation started at around 18:00, with the help of medical teams from Pardubice and Hradec Králové, members of police (then called Public Security), soldiers from the nearby military school and local citizens; the field first aid post was set up, ambulances transported the injured to hospitals in Pardubice and Hradec Králové and the operations were run even in maternity home. Special trains equipped with cranes were sent to the place of disaster to deal with the wreckage.

Most survivors were rescued before 20:00; the last survivor was found under the wreckage at around 23:00, but died during transportation. Wreckage of disaster and the debris was removed on the next day, 15 November 1960 at around 11:30. At 12:30 the first scheduled train went through. During the cleanup, 5 fast, 21 passenger, and 21 freight trains were cancelled.

The total account was 118 dead and 110 seriously injured (according to some sources 110 and 106), it was impossible to identify some of the victims and three bodies were not found. The total damage was around 477.000 Kčs (Czechoslovak crowns – country average month income was 1,303 Kčs in 1960).

Aftermath[edit]

Court trial[edit]

The disaster clarifying begun immediately in the night; the government investigation commission was created, which published the final report on 30 November 1960. In general, it stated flagrant violation of railway transportation elementary rules; the trials took place at the Regional Court in Hradec Králové from 8 to 11 February 1961. The verdict of the train 608 crew was:

  • train head – 5.5 years imprisonment
  • train driver – 4.5 years imprisonment (released after 3 years)
  • senior conductor – 4 years imprisonment
  • assistant/fireman – 1.5 year imprisonment
  • junior conductor – 1-year suspended
  • train attendant – acquitted

All those convicted were also forbidden from the profession for several years.

Publicity[edit]

The official bulletin was issued on 15 November 1960 by Czechoslovak Press Agency, which was printed by the Rudé Právo (Communist Party of the Czechoslovakia central newspaper) next day; the bulletin published the number of victims, mentioned politicians who visited the disaster place and informed about the creation of a government investigation commission. The commission report was published in Rudé Právo on 14 February 1961, with information about trial which concluded the previous day.

Memorial[edit]

Památník železniční nehody u Stéblové 3.jpg

A cross was erected on the place of disaster; it was replaced about 80 meters away in 1967 and enclosed by low grille fence.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the disaster in 2000, a memorial ceremony was held in which the municipal office in Stéblová replaced the cross (at that time considerably dilapidated and rusty) by a black granite plaque with an appropriate inscription, inserted into the modified area.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Haine, Edgar A. (June 1994). Railroad Wrecks. Cornwall Books. p. 235. ISBN 0-8453-4844-2.
  2. ^ "110 Dead in Crash of 2 Czech Trians; 106 Are Injured Seriously in Disaster 68 Miles East of Prague". The New York Times: 9. 16 November 1960. Retrieved 21 August 2008.