Tragedy Strikes Twice: The 2013 Hosena (Germany) Train Collision

Hosena is a small town (Population in 2019: 1673 people) in the far east of Germany in the federal state of Brandenburg. Officially a suburb of Senftenberg since 2002, the town is located right on the border with the federal state of Saxony, 39km/24mi southwest of Cottbus and 50km/31mi north of Dresden. The Polish border near the town of Bad Muskau is only 50km/31mi away (all distances measured in linear distance).

The location of Hosena in Europe.

The town’s train station lies on the Węgliniec–Roßlau railway, a 233km/145mi double-tracked electrified main line opened in 1875. Connecting Germany with Poland the railway sees various regional passenger services as well as regional and long distance freight train. On the northern side of Hosena Station a siding splits off for eastbound trains, connecting a nearby quarry to the German railway network. In addition the station serves as the rail-connection for a steel mill and a quartz plant, giving it an oddly large size for such a small town. The station had been the site of a fatal train crash in 2012, after which operational capabilities were reduced and a signal box that had been destroyed in the accident had not been rebuilt, being replaced by remote systems.

The approximate site of the accident seen from above. The forward train was waiting on track 4 as the rear train approached from the west (left side of the image).

DGS 90981 was a private freight train provided by the British company Freightliner, consisting of 45 open top freight cars measuring a total of 576m/1890ft plus the locomotive. The train cars were loaded with stone chips, the report lists the weight of the cargo alone at 3500 metric tons. Pulling the train was an EMD Class 66 diesel locomotive, a six-axle diesel-electric locomotive developed for heavy freight services. Each Class 66 measures 21.35m/70ft in length at a weight of 127 metric tons and can reach 120kph/75mph thanks to a two-stroke V12 diesel engine producing 2420kW/3245hp. DGS 90981 had been loaded with its cargo at Hosena’s quarry before driving westbound to Senftenberg to pull the locomotive around to the other end of the train before returning to Hosena station, pulling into track 4 on an eastbound heading. This back and forth was required as moving the locomotive to the other end of the train was no longer possible at Hosena station due to the aftermath of the 2012 collision. By 6:15pm the train was waiting to be overtaken by a passenger service before it could depart for Schwarzkollm. At the time of the accident the locomotive was manned by two drivers, as one of them was being taught how to operate the type.

A Freightliner Class 66 pulling a train near-identical to the one involved in the accident.

GM 61649 was a freight service provided by DB Schenker (now called DB Cargo), consisting of 39 type EAOS-x open freight cars, heading eastbound through Hosena from Brieske. Introduced in 1978 the EAOS-family is a group of rectangular four-axle open top freight cars used to carry various bulk goods. Each EAOS-car measures 14.04m/46ft at an empty weight of 21.5 metric tons and can carry up to 58 metric tons. When empty the cars are allowed to run at as much as 120kph/75mph. The 39 cars came in at a combined length of 548m/1798ft according to the report.

An EAOS-x freight car identical to those involved in the accident.

Pulling the train at the time of the accident was DB 155 146–4. Introduced in 1974 as the DR (Eastern-Germany’s national railway) series 250 the DB series 155 is a six-axle electric locomotive intended for heavy freight trains. The locomotives measure 19.6m/64ft in length at a weight of 123 metric tons and can reach 125kph/78mph thanks to a combined output of 5400kW/7242hp. Attempts to retire the locomotive in the new millennium failed due to the lack of an adequate successor, keeping over 200 of the old locomotives in service. Their boxy shape and high power output has earned them the nickname “Powercontainer” among enthusiasts.

DB 155 146–4, the locomotive involved in the accident, photographed a year and a half before the collision.

On the 11th of November 2013 DGS 90981 arrived at Hosena station at 6:14pm after having pulled the locomotive from the western to the eastern end at Senftenberg, pulling into track 4 to let a regional express pass. It was under the responsibility of signal box W3, at the time consisting of a two-story container structure as the 2012 accident had destroyed the original signal box. The station had no occupancy sensors on its tracks, meaning the signal box crew had to report the occupation or vacancy of the tracks by visually checking for parked trains, supported by the train report booklet that had any arriving and departing trains listed in it. DGS 90981 was parked up with the locomotive approximately 100m/328ft from the exit-signal on the eastern side. The dispatcher requested a status update on track 4 at approximately 6:20pm, despite the head of the parked train being within his sight despite the darkness outside. The points guard at W3 would have had to leave the signal box and walk along the tracks to sufficiently check his section of the station, which he neglected to do, instead reporting track 4 as available for the approaching GM 61649 which was approaching the station at 80kph/50mph.

With the points guard confirming that track 4 was clear the dispatcher was able to unlock the track (which required a physical key), setting a path for the approaching train and turning the entrance-signal green. The approaching train decelerated to 60kph/37mph as it entered Hosena’s station area, further dropping to 54kph/33.5mph on the following meters. The locomotive’s data-logger records an emergency stop being triggered at 6:25pm, only seconds before the locomotive struck the back of the parked freight train at 52kph/32mph. The impact moved the parked freight train 12m/40ft forwards before the resistance stops both trains, causing the empty freight cars of GM 61649 to mount the back of the locomotive. The body of the locomotive is almost entirely crushed as the leading freight cars pass over the locomotive and the back of the parked freight train ahead before spilling in different directions. The driver, thrown to the ground by the initial impact, survives with minor injuries. Had he been standing upright he would have likely been killed.

DB 155 146 sitting in the wreckage shortly after the accident. The driver survived in the left hand cab.

The rear train’s locomotive ended up buried beneath the leading cars of its train, giving the first people on site little hope for the driver onboard. Not only had the locomotive been severely shortened by the accident, crushing both cabs lengthwise, the freight cars running over the top of it had also crushed most of the body from above. For the witnesses and responders things looked a lot like the accident they had faced the previous year. Once again two freight trains collided at the station, once again a driver miraculously survived in a crushed locomotive. Except this time, at least, there are no deaths to be mourned. The site once again looks like something one might expect from a model railway that fell victim to someone’s tantrum, pieces of train cars and the rear locomotive are strewn all over and the wreckage piles 8m/26ft high in some places.

From this angle the rear locomotive’s remains are all but buried beneath the freight cars.

Journalists and residents gather at the barriers cordoning off the site, the same questions are asked again and again. Why did this happen, why did this happen here again? The previous accident is still under investigation at this time, it will later be blamed on a valve in the pneumatic brake system being closed. Investigators spend the night examining the wreckage as far as they can, finding no obvious preexisting defect with the brakes. The day after the accident heavy-duty cranes are brought in, lifting a freight car off the rear locomotive and allowing recovery of the locomotive’s data-logger. The station crew is also interrogated, with the dispatcher and W3’s points guard choosing to remain silent.

Another look at the remains of the rear locomotive, in some places only inches of bodywork remain above the frame.

The investigators soon narrow down the cause to human error on the side of the station crew, mainly neither the points guard nor the dispatcher conducting proper visual checks. The report notes that the old signal box W3, which was destroyed in the 2012 accident, had had a floodlight mounted on the outside wall illuminating the area the signal box’ crew was responsible for, the temporary container structure did not have a light like that installed, leaving a significant part of the area in darkness and requiring the staff to walk outside more often. Confiscated train report booklets show that the Freightliner-train‘s arrival had been properly entered into the section for arrivals on the western side of the station, but once parked it had not been entered into the main part of the records, presumably being simply being forgotten about. With the dispatcher and points guard both continuing to refuse cooperation the only thing the investigators could do was an educated guess, assuming that, since the parked train wasn’t in the booklet, the dispatcher couldn’t be bothered to look out the window at a train he was sure wasn’t there. The investigators concluded that GM 61649 had been entered into the dispatcher’s booklet prematurely, taking away the empty space that would have been occupied by the data for 90981, allowing the train to be forgotten. This, along with the signal guard’s unwillingness to properly check the track occupancy outside his signal box, led to the incoming freight train being sent right into the parked train.

An excerp from the dispatcher’s records, as shown in the record. DGS 90981 is missing, belonging between 26057 and 61649

Both the dispatcher and signal guard were charged with dangerous interference with rail traffic and negligent cause of bodily harm, their sentences, however, were not announced publicly. DB 155 146–4 was written off after the accident, having suffered an extend of damage that would have written off any locomotive while being a type that was in the process of retirement already. It was placed in a siding at Hosena station before being torn up for scrap there in mid-December 2013. After the accident the container structure was finally replaced with a proper, modern signal box system in September 2014, which includes occupancy sensors that put an end to the necessity of visual checks by the staff. The new system controls 48 signals, 36 sets of points and three level crossings. A big improvement, which came with a price tag of over 30 Million Euros/30.05 Million USD. With this improvement a repeat of the accident is unlikely.

DB 155 146–4, photographed in early December 2013.

The DB originally retired the series 155 by 2019 before reactivating a handful of units by January 2021, adding to a small number of operational locomotives in private hands. By June 2021 enthusiasts had listed 53 units in operational condition, most of which in regular service. Some of them, especially privately owned ones, are still working as of Summer 2022.

A private series 155 spotted in service in July 2022.

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