Due to the Wire: The 2014 Moscow (Russia) Train Derailment

Max S
8 min readJan 14, 2024

Background

Moscow is the capital and largest city of Russia, housing 13 Million people (as of 2021), located in the far west of the country 724km/450mi west of Kazan and 629km/391mi southeast of St Petersburg (both measurements in linear distance).

The location of Moscow in Europe.

The city is home to the Moscow Metro System, a rapid transit system consisting of the Subway network, which is largely underground, and an above ground Monorail service. The total track length measures 508km/316mi as of 2023, serving a total of 300 stations for 7.5 Million passengers on an average day. The Metro opened in May 1935 at 11km/6.8mi with just 13 stations, making it the first underground railway system in the Soviet Union. It stands today as the 10th-longest Metro in the world (excluding the Monorail and an above-ground circular rail line) ny track length and the longest outside China. The Metro trains run on 1520mm wide-gauge, placing the rails further apart than the global standard of 1435mm. 1520mm wide-gauge is a common track gauge used in former Soviet countries. It’s widely referred to as “Russian Gauge” due to that, despite originating in the UK.

The network of the Moscow Metro as of December 2012.

The accident occurred on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line (“Line 3”) in the west of Moscow, just beyond Park Pobedy Station. Park Pobedy opened in 2003 before being expanded to the form it had at the time of the accident in in 2008, featuring four tracks for two lines which were served by two platforms. The station’s platforms sit at a claimed depth of 84m/276ft below the street-level, making this Moscow's deepest metro station and one of the deepest in the world.

The approximate site of the accident, located to the immediate west of Park Pobedy Station. The train approached from the east (right side of the image).

The Train Involved

The 8:34am departure from Park Pobedy was a westbound service on Line 3 of the Moscow Metro system, carrying approximately 1000 people as it pulled away from the platform at Park Pobedy. The service was provided by a Metrovagonmash 81–740/741 “Rusich” (translated from Русич, an old name for “Russian”). The train involved in the accident consisted five units, each made up of a two-car pair (one car with a cab and one without) which share the center wheelset. At least two pairs are required for operation in order to have a cab at both ends.

Each pair measures 27.75m/91ft in length at an empty weight of 47 metric tons, meaning the ten-car train involved in the accident measured 138.75/455ftin length at 235 metric tons empty. The type can reach a top speed of 90kph/56mph and has a claimed capacity of 344 people per two-car unit. The train involved in the accident, consisting of pairs 0210, 0766, 0765, 0764 and 0211, had started service in 2010.

A ten-car series 81–740/741, nearly identical with the one involved in the accident, photographed in 2010.

The accident

Construction had been ongoing since 2013 to expand the Kalininskaya-line (Line 8) to the Solntsevo-District in southwest Moscow, which involved connecting it to the Park Pobedy station and creating the ability to have trains switch between Line 3 and Line 8 at that station. The northern track of Line 8 was connected to the northern track of Line 3 just west of the station by a set of points which could divert westbound trains off Line 3 and onto Line 8. However, the interchange was not yet in use by July 2014 as construction work hadn’t finished and wasn’t hooked up to the signal box.

The 8:35 train from Park Pobedy Station to Slavyansky Bulvar station pulls away from the platform right on schedule on the 15th of July 2014, carrying around 1000 passengers along with a driver. The train set quickly picks up speed, reaching 70kph/43.5kph within a short distance. It reaches the new set of points by 8:35am and suddenly derails to the left as it attempts to navigate them. The leading car runs into the compartmentalized wall of the tunnel, the sudden resistance throws the rear of the car around and jams the leading car sideways into the tunnel. The following cars proceed to crash into the growing blockade, piling all the way to the ceiling as the leading car is reduced to rubble. The rear four cars remain aligned and mostly on track, having their deceleration sufficiently cushioned by what used to be the forward six cars. 24 people die in what becomes the worst accident in the Metro’s history, with another 271 (Russian sources, others claim as low as 217) being injured.

A photo captured minutes after the accident, with responders approaching the back of the forward cars.

Aftermath

A large-scale alarm is triggered within minutes of the accident, getting over a dozen vehicles, several helicopters and hundreds of responders involved in the rescue-effort. Most passengers are evacuated from the back of the tunnel and eastward along the tunnel back to the station they had just departed, another train has to be evacuated further up the line as it becomes stranded when the crashing train cuts the power-supply. Firefighters eventually bring in hydraulic spreaders (often called the “Jaws of Life”) and heavy duty cutting tools once all passengers are removed from the less- to undamaged parts of the train and get to work on the ceiling-high plug in the tunnel that used to be 3–4 metro cars. They actually rescue living passengers from the remains of the leading car despite the extensive destruction, some of which end up pulling through and surviving the consequences of the accident.

The Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) starts their official investigation the following day, explaining that several theories are being pursued but assuring the public that no sabotage or terrorism is being suspected. The investigators examine the remains of the train and interview survivors as well as passengers who passed the site earlier in the day to try and narrow down the cause. The Metro had had a reputation for high reliability, but it was more or less officially known that it was suffering from mismanagement, poor maintenance and impractical cost cutting in recent years. Several media-outlets pick up a Facebook-post published two weeks before the accident where a user had reported seemingly excessive gaps at track-joints, considering that maybe the tracks had been so far apart that the train derailed. However, the Facebook-user had been told that everything was within the official guidelines and standards [I attempted to track down the post but appears to have been removed or set to private], and excessive gaps are also nowhere to be found after the accident.

Firefighters work at the back of the wreckage, using ladders to access openings in the towering debris.

The investigation finds that the new set of points, which should have been locked in the “straight ahead” position as it wasn’t hooked up to the signaling system or the signal box yet, had shifted out of alignment, meaning its “tongue” (the movable part which decides which way a train is directed) was in between “straight ahead” and “turn right”. The lock which should have been on it was nowhere to be found, a thin, torn wire was retrieved from the wreckage instead. The workers installing the points had, apparently, foregone the mandated locking-mechanism and instead merely secured the tongue of the points with a wire, somewhat comparable to zip-tying something together.

A (grossly simplified) sketch of a set of points like those at the site, with the tongue highlighted in red. The tongue is set up against the left or right hand rail, “picking up” that side’s train wheels off it and directing it as intended.

Two suspects are arrested on the 16th of July, Mister Bashkatov and his assistant Mister Gordov. They had been part of the crew installing the new set of points and had been responsible for securing the points until they could be put into service. It was them, according to the investigation, who accepted a 3mm/0.12in diameter wire replacing the mandated locking mechanism. The union doubted that the wire had actually been used to secure the points and had failed, instead pointing to scratches found along the sleepers (the crossbeams connecting the rails) ahead of the site and arguing that something had fallen off the train itself, knocking the points out of alignment when it got dragged there. However, no evidence outside the scratches on the sleepers (which could have existed before the accident) supported that theory.

The list of arrests grew a few days after the accident, with Mister Kruglov (head of the construction effort) and Mister Trofimov (deputy head of the track maintenance division) being arrested in connection with the improperly secured points. Mister Besedin, chief executive of the Moscow Metro, didn’t get arrested but did get fired by Mister Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor at the time, on the 22nd of July 2014.

Responders walk along the back of the wreckage.

The trial eventually started on the 8th of July 2015, nearly a year after the accident. Proceedings concluded on the 8th of November of that year, seeing all four defendants found guilty on charges comparable to negligent interference with rail traffic and negligent endangerment of rail traffic. Mister Gordov is sentenced to 6 years in prison while the other three men receive 5.5 years each. The Moscow Metro furthermore sued the construction company for their damages, including the loss of the train, but was rejected. Moscow’s city government, without going through a trial, published a statement during that time announcing that they would pay out 1 Million Ruble (at the time 18800 Euros/22790 USD) to relatives for each victim and further, lower payments to injured survivors. Why exactly the construction crew chose to use the wire instead of the proper locking-mechanism has never been publicly determined.

Flowers line the entrance to Park Pobedy station after the accident.

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Max S

Train crash reports and analysis, published weekly.