Three killed and seven seriously injured in Czech Republic train crash

Critics say rail system is dilapidated and unsafe after third crash in two years

Rescuers at the scene of a train crash near the city of Domazlice, Czech Republic. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

Rescuers at the scene of a train crash near the city of Domazlice, Czech Republic. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

 

Three people were killed and 31 injured, seven critically, after a two-train collision in the Czech Republic on Wednesday morning.

The accident happened just after 8am outside the town of Domazlice, near the Bavarian border, when a German express train from Munich to Prague crossed a stop signal and rammed a local train from Plzen.

Local media reported that the two drivers, both Czech citizens, were killed in the incident, as well as a woman passenger.

Locals spoke of hearing a loud bang and seeing bloody passengers fleeing the wreckage; images from the crash scene showed crushed carriages and debris spilled out over the tracks.

“The [express] locomotive driver didn’t react to a yellow signal, nor to the stop signal and just kept going,” said Karel Havlicek, Czech transport minister.

A spokesman for Länderbahn, the private German operator of the “Alex” express train, said its train were carrying 20 people; after crossing the border, the company said the train had been handed over to a Czech partner.

“These are terrible images that have reached us from the Czech Republic,” said Wolfgang Pollety, chief executive of Länderbahn. “Everything will be done to help people on the ground . . . we wish all injured a rapid recovery.”

Czech and Bavarian rescue teams hurried to the crash site to attend to wounded passengers while four helicopters ferried the critically injured to hospital.

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis expressed his condolences to relatives of the dead. “It’s important now to save lives,” he wrote on Twitter, “after that everything must be cleared up.”

Network criticism

After two Czech rail crashes in July 2020, which claimed a total of three lives, Wednesday’s accident has revived a debate over the condition of the country’s railways.

The Czech rail network, at the heart of Europe, is one of continent’s densest, carrying 2.7 million trains annually. Less than seven per cent of the country’s 9,000km rail network has modern electronic signalling.

On Wednesday the Czech government promised to invest 300 billion crowns (€3.9 billion) over the next 20 years to upgrade rail signals to a new European standard.

A Czech railway federation spokesman declined to comment on the possible cause of the accident ahead of an investigation. Martin Maly, chairman of the Czech railway workers’ trade union, insisted that accidents can occur on all types of lines, including those with modern signalling systems.

He told Czech Television that a shortage of train drivers, and pressure on existing locomotive drivers, may have been a factor in the accident. Tobias Ruhr, head of the Bavarian Red Cross rescue operation said “the Czech and Bavarian rescue crews worked well together, after decades of successful co-operation”.

On Wednesday evening, crash investigators continued to inspect the mangled train wrecks, keeping closed the line between the Bavarian and Czech capitals.