Poor Parking: The 2008 Dillenburg Train Collision
Dillenburg is a city of 23209 people (as of December 2019) in the west of Germany, located 80km/49.7mi north of Mainz and 84.5km/52.5mi west of Bonn in the federal state of Hesse (both measurements in linear distance).
The city lies on the “Dill Railway” (“Dillstrecke”), a 73km/45mi double-tracked electrified main line connecting Siegen with Gießen (often called “Giessen” in English) since 1915. The line sees everything from regional passenger trains and long distance intercity trains to freight trains, with various providers sharing the line with the DB (German national railway). Dillenburg houses both a passenger station and a sprawling freight yard which is used by a nearby steel mill and to split up freight trains to send individual cars to various smaller stations and clients in the area.
The trains involved
CSQ 60046 was a 25-car freight train from Kornwestheim to the VW-Factory at Emden pulled by DB 152 161. The series 152 is a 19.58m/64ft long four-axle electric freight train locomotive made by Siemens between 1996 and 2001. It can reach a top speed of 140kph/87mph, making it fast enough to take over passenger trains if needed, and weights 86.7 metric tons.
CSQ 60046 was a chartered service provided by Railion Germany for the Volkswagen AG and carried 106 brand new Porsche sports cars in both open and special enclosed car carriers owned by Car Rail Logistics (a car transport provider opened by Rail Cargo Austria). The rear 4 cars in the train were pairs of their type Hccrrss enclosed bilevel car-carriers, two-axle freight cars that are run in close-coupled pairs of two cars each for faster loading and unloading. The special connection between the two cars of each pair also allows a pair of cars to be parked on the “seam” between two of the carriers, increasing capacity. According to people at the site a lot of the cars were intended for export, with cars being set up for right hand drive or carrying small license plate cutouts (for North America). The train measured 682m/2238ft in length at a weight of 1099 metric tons. This made it unusually long for German rail traffic, most freight trains are under 600m/1968ft.
CR 64218 was a freight train run by RBH logistics from Vohburg to Duisburg Harbor and consisted of 20 four-axle tank cars loaded with petroleum distillate, a highly flammable liquid used in the production of fuel for cars and aircraft as well as paint thinner. Pulling the 1694 metric ton train was 185 544, a four-axle multisystem electric locomotive made by Bombardier under their “Traxx”-brand. Weighting 85 metric tons at 18.9m/62ft long the freight-version can reach 140kph/87mph. Owned by MRCE Dispolok the locomotive was rented to RBH at the time of the accident, keeping MRCE’s trademark black paint job but wearing RBH-logos on the sides and ends.
On the 5th of November 2008 CSQ 60046 had arrived at Dillenburg’s freight yard at approximately 0:10am, rolling into track 132 and stopping ahead of a red signal. The track was built to accommodate trains as long as 714m/2343ft, plenty for the 682m/2238ft car carrier train. Construction on one of the tracks north of Dillenburg station has reduced traffic to one track, meaning a number of freight trains have to wait at the freight yard to let passenger trains pass. The points guard in charge of the southern end of the freight yard saw the signaling-system report the train having passed the points, assuming it had fully pulled up to the signal and cleared the points at the entrance. She failed to perform the mandatory visual confirmation to ensure that the points were clear before reporting the train as correctly parked to the signal box. The dispatcher in the signal box received notice that the points were clear and re-set the points the car carrier train had used to get into track 132 to allow the approaching tank car train’s entry into the neighboring track. Due to the points guard not doing the visual inspection neither of the two noticed that the car carrier train had stopped approximately 110m/361ft short of the signal. As such, the points were under the rear cars and the path wasn’t clear for the next train. Lacking this knowledge no-one radioed the driver to order him to pull up to the signal, instead the points were set for the next train regardless and the approaching tank car train was cleared to approach. Here the fact that the car carrier train was rather long for German railway traffic comes into play, and it also has to be noted that block sections in a freight yard are not fixed in length to accommodate shunting operation without the signal-system stopping trains from getting too close to one another all the time. The driver had just taken over from a coworker shortly prior to stopping at Dillenburg and presumably underestimated the length of his train relative to the position of the signals and points.
At 0:18am the tanker car train approaches Dillenburg freight yard at 38kph/23.5mph under a green signal. At 0:19am the driver presumably realized that the car carrier in front of him was intruding into his path, as the data-logger aboard 185 544 registered a drop in pneumatic pressure associated with an emergency stop being initiated. Less than two minutes later, at 0:21am the locomotive rear-ends the parked car carrier train at 23kph/14mph. The impact derails the locomotive and the rear 3 car carriers, pushing the stopped train 7m/23ft ahead while the forward tanker car climbs over the buffers on the rear of the locomotive, severely damaging the rear (unoccupied) driver’s cab. The rear pair of car carriers splits open as one of the two cars falls over, spilling out the Porsches. The driver of the tank car train suffers minor injuries in the collision, the rear car carriers and 20 of the loaded sports cars end up being written off with a couple more brand new cars requiring repairs. Despite crashing into the locomotive the forward tank car remained watertight and none of its dangerous cargo spilled out.
The collision locks down the entirety of the freight yard’s entrance, wreaking havoc on the schedules for both passenger and freight trains. Responders are at the site within minutes, once the DB confirms that the torn overhead wires don’t pose any danger anymore firefighters enter the severely damaged rear locomotive and rescue the driver. He’s initially taken to the hospital for treatment but gets to go home within the day. The driver of the parked train is treated on site and released. Initially it is suspected that the car carrier train rolled back by accident and caused the accident that way, but this is quickly disproven when an examination reveals the brake-system to be in perfect working order. If it rolled back at all, then no more than 24cm/9.4in.
With the investigation on site wrapping up the day after the accident and most of both trains being towed away the THW (German federal agency for federal relief) was brought in to cut the destroyed car carriers into pieces and help the DB get the mangled sports cars off the tracks, an operation that stretched into the following night. Once the rear locomotive had been dragged out of the wreckage the cut pieces of the car carriers as well as the wrecked Porsche were loaded onto a few flatbed cars and taken away. One can see some irony in the slogan “we move cars with care!” being written down the sides of the car carriers.
Initially investigations were started against both drivers and the dispatcher as well as the points guard, but the driver of the rear train and the dispatcher were soon relieved of guilt. The driver of the rear train had done nothing wrong, from his point of view it was impossible to see which way any of the points in his path were set up early enough to stop in time. The investigation against the driver of the car carrier train actually went to trial on charges of dangerous interference with rail traffic and property damage, but he too was relieved of guilt. Yes he had stopped short, but this alone was not criminal negligence. It happens commonly, and it can be expected that the driver would be notified and ordered to correct his position. In the end the points guard was the sole person being sentenced, ending up with six months of jail time which was immediately turned into probation. She also lost her position at the freight yard, it’s unknown if she was fired or just retrained for a different job within the company. Total financial damages, not counting cost from delayed/cancelled trains in the aftermath of the collision, came in at 4.32 million Euros (5.15 million USD), 1.3 million Euros/1.55 million USD of which being the damage to the Porsches alone.
The Dill Railway is still an important rail line today, recently gaining more importance when it was announced that Intercity trains will return to the line in late 2021 after a ten year break. The RBH ended its rental of 185 544 after the accident, despite the severe damage MRCE chose not to dispose of the 3 years old locomotive, instead it was repaired at Bombardier in Kassel and was spotted back in service in March 2010. It has since been rented out two more times.
Writing this I had to greatly rely on enthusiast forums for information and double-checking as I found the official report to contain a couple of errors (like listing a wrong locomotive). So I have to thank “Drehscheibe Online” for its community helping me put these together for the second time.