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Runaway train kills three people

The two trains were wrecked in the massive collision Keystone

Three railway workers have been killed in a train collision near Thun in the Bernese Oberland - the worst railway accident in Switzerland in 12 years.

This content was published on May 17, 2006 - 14:23

The three men were on board a runaway maintenance train that crashed into another after travelling more than 30 kilometres following a brake failure.

The runaway train was at a site near Blausee early on Wednesday morning when it began moving and heading towards Spiez, according to Mathias Tromp, head of the BLS Railways.

The three men – two BLS employees and a private contractor – failed to regain control of the diesel locomotive, which was hauling five wagons of ballast and other material.

After being warned by the train's occupants, company management decided to divert it towards another maintenance site on a straight section of the line on the outskirts of Thun after passing through Spiez and let it collide with the other train.

Tromp said that this decision constituted the solution presenting the least risks.

The 11 workers at the site were able to evacuate just before the collision occurred. After hitting two wagons on the line, the runaway train continued to move forward, travelling another 200 metres before striking the stationary train.

More than 80 police and rescue workers were on the scene after the accident, but could not do anything for the three men on board. The 11 maintenance workers were taken to a nearby hospital for psychological counselling.

The two trains sustained massive damage.

Investigation

The victims, two Swiss and a German resident, all had families. Tromp and company chairman Hans Lauri expressed their sorrow and their sympathy to the men's relatives.

The transport ministry's investigation services have begun picking over the wreckage to find out what went wrong. The chief investigator said that while he could not say what happened, it was obvious it was something unusual.

One of the lines between Thun and Spiez has now reopened.

This was the second accident for BLS in little over three weeks. One of the company's trains collided with a German ICE express at Thun station after the driver failed to heed a stop signal, injuring eight people slightly.

The last time a train accident claimed a number of lives was in 1994, when a crane on a maintenance train swung into an express train, killing nine people.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Previous fatal railway accidents in Switzerland:

In February 2002 two people were killed at Chiasso station when a train derailed, injuring five others.

In November 1999 two trains collided on the outskirts of Bern, killing two and injuring 51 others.

In 1994 a maintenance crane swung into an express train in canton Solothurn, killing nine and leaving more than 20 injured.

The worst collision between two trains took place in 1924 in Bellinzona, with 19 dead.

Switzerland's worst railway disaster took place in 1891, when a bridge collapsed under a train near Basel, killing 71 and injuring 171.

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Key facts

BLS Railways is Switzerland's second-biggest railway company, behind the Swiss Federal Railways.
The company maintains and operates a network of 245 kilometres of standard tracks.
Its main activities are passenger traffic along the north-south axis through the Lötschberg tunnel, regional passenger traffic in the Bern metropolitan area, and freight transport through the Alps.

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