Eschede train disaster
The Eschede train disaster was the world's deadliest high-speed train
High-speed rail
High-speed rail is a type of passenger rail transport that operates significantly faster than the normal speed of rail traffic. Specific definitions by the European Union include for upgraded track and or faster for new track, whilst in the United States, the U.S...

 accident. It occurred on 3 June 1998, near the village
A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand , Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New...

 of Eschede
Eschede is a municipality in the district of Celle, in Lower Saxony, Germany. Situated approximately 15 km northeast of Celle, Eschede lies at the border of the renowned Südheide Nature Park, a protected area of large forests and heaths. Today around 20 small villages are part of the...

 in the Celle
Celle (district)
Celle is a district in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is bounded by the districts of Uelzen, Gifhorn, Hanover and Heidekreis.- Geography :...

 district of Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony is a German state situated in north-western Germany and is second in area and fourth in population among the sixteen states of Germany...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. The toll of 101 people dead and 88 (estimated) injured surpassed the 1971 Dahlerau train disaster
Dahlerau train disaster
The Dahlerau train disaster was a severe railway accident that took place on May 27, 1971 in Dahlerau, a small town belonging to Radevormwald in then-West Germany, in which a freight train and a passenger train crashed into each other. 46 people perished in the accident, of whom 41 were senior year...

 as the deadliest accident in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. It was caused by a single fatigue
Fatigue (material)
'In materials science, fatigue is the progressive and localized structural damage that occurs when a material is subjected to cyclic loading. The nominal maximum stress values are less than the ultimate tensile stress limit, and may be below the yield stress limit of the material.Fatigue occurs...

 crack in one wheel which, when it finally failed, caused the train to derail at a switch
Railroad switch
A railroad switch, turnout or [set of] points is a mechanical installation enabling railway trains to be guided from one track to another at a railway junction....


Chronology of events

Wheel fracture

The Intercity-Express or ICE is a system of high-speed trains predominantly running in Germany and neighbouring countries. It is the highest service category offered by DB Fernverkehr and is the flagship of Deutsche Bahn...

 trainset 51 was travelling as ICE 884 "Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was a German physicist, who, on 8 November 1895, produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range today known as X-rays or Röntgen rays, an achievement that earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901....

" on the Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 to Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 route; the train was scheduled to stop at Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

, Würzburg
Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia which lies in the northern tip of Bavaria, Germany. Located at the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is Franconian....

, Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...

, Kassel
Kassel is a town located on the Fulda River in northern Hesse, Germany. It is the administrative seat of the Kassel Regierungsbezirk and the Kreis of the same name and has approximately 195,000 inhabitants.- History :...

, Göttingen
Göttingen is a university town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Göttingen. The Leine river runs through the town. In 2006 the population was 129,686.-General information:...

, and Hannover before reaching Hamburg. After stopping in Hannover at 10:30, the train continued its journey northwards. About 130 kilometre and forty minutes away from Hamburg and six kilometres south of central Eschede, near Celle
Celle is a town and capital of the district of Celle, in Lower Saxony, Germany. The town is situated on the banks of the River Aller, a tributary of the Weser and has a population of about 71,000...

, the steel tyre on a wheel on the third axle of the first car broke, peeled away from the wheel, and punctured the floor of the car, where it remained embedded.

What ensued was a series of events that occurred within minutes yet took investigators months to reconstruct. The tire embedded in the rail car was seen by Jörg Dittmann, one of the passengers in Coach 1. The tire went through an armrest between where his wife and son sat. Dittmann took his wife and son out of the damaged coach and went to inform a conductor in the third coach. The conductor, who noticed vibrations in the train, told Dittmann that company policy required him to investigate the circumstances before pulling the emergency brake. The conductor took one minute to go to the site in Coach 1. Dittmann said that by then the train had begun to sway from side to side; Dittmann said that the conductor did not show a willingness to stop the train immediately at that point; according to Dittmann the conductor wished to more thoroughly investigate the incident. Dittmann said that the crash occurred just when he was about to show the armrest puncture to the conductor.


As the train passed over the first of two track switches
Railroad switch
A railroad switch, turnout or [set of] points is a mechanical installation enabling railway trains to be guided from one track to another at a railway junction....

, the embedded tire slammed against the guide rail of the switch, pulling it from the railway ties. This steering rail also penetrated the floor of the car, becoming embedded in the vehicle and lifting the axle carriage off the rails. At 10:59 local time (08:59 UTC), one of the now-derailed wheels struck the points lever of the second switch, changing its setting. The rear axles of car number 3 were switched onto a parallel track, and the entire car was thereby thrown into and destroyed the pier
Pier (architecture)
In architecture, a pier is an upright support for a superstructure, such as an arch or bridge. Sections of wall between openings function as piers. The simplest cross section of the pier is square, or rectangular, although other shapes are also common, such as the richly articulated piers of Donato...

s supporting a 300-tonne
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

 roadway overpass
A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley, or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle...


Car number 4, likewise derailed by the violent deviation of car number 3 and still travelling at 200 kph, passed intact under the bridge and rolled onto the embankment immediately behind it. Two Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn AG is the German national railway company, a private joint stock company . Headquartered in Berlin, it came into existence in 1994 as the successor to the former state railways of Germany, the Deutsche Bundesbahn of West Germany and the Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany...

 railway workers who had been working near the bridge were killed instantly when the derailed car crushed them. The breaking of the car couplings caused the automatic emergency brake
Emergency brake (train)
On trains, the expression emergency brake has several meanings:* The maximum brake force available to the driver/engineer from his conventional braking system, usually operated by taking the brake handle to its furthest postion, through a gate mechanism, or by pushing a separate plunger in the cab*...

s to engage and the mostly undamaged first three cars came to a stop. The detached front power car stopped completely long after passing the Eschede train station, some three kilometers (two miles) further along the track.

Bridge collapse

Coaches one and two cleared the bridge. Coach three hit the bridge, which began to collapse. Coach four cleared the bridge, moved away from the track, and hit a group of trees. The bridge pieces crushed the rear half of coach five. The restaurant coach, six, was crushed to a 15 cm (six inch) height. With the track now obstructed completely by the collapsed bridge, the remaining cars "jackknifed
Jackknifing means the folding of an articulated vehicle such that it resembles the acute angle of a folding pocket knife. If a vehicle towing a trailer skids, the trailer can push it from behind until it spins round and faces backwards. This may be caused by equipment failure, improper braking, or...

" into the rubble in a zig-zag pattern: Cars 7, the service car, the three first class cars numbered 10 to 12, and the rear power car all derailed and slammed into the pile. The resulting mess was likened to a partially collapsed folding ruler. An automobile was also found in the wreckage. It belonged to the two railway technicians and was probably parked on the bridge before the accident.
The crash made a sound that witnesses later described as "startling," "horribly loud," and "like a plane crash." Nearby residents, alerted by the sound, were the first to arrive at the scene. Erika Karl, the first person to walk into the accident scene, photographed the accident site. Karl said that, upon hearing the noise, her husband believed initially that the accident was an aircraft accident. After the accident, eight of the ICE carriages occupied an area slightly longer than the length of a single carriage.

At 11:02, the local police declared an emergency
Emergency management
Emergency management is the generic name of an interdisciplinary field dealing with the strategic organizational management processes used to protect critical assets of an organization from hazard risks that can cause events like disasters or catastrophes and to ensure the continuance of the...

; at 11:07, as the magnitude of the disaster quickly became apparent, this was elevated to "major emergency"; and at 12:30 the Celle district
Celle (district)
Celle is a district in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is bounded by the districts of Uelzen, Gifhorn, Hanover and Heidekreis.- Geography :...

 government declared a "catastrophic emergency" (civil state of emergency). More than 1000 rescue workers from regional emergency services, fire departments, rescue services, the police and army were dispatched. Some 37 emergency physicians
Emergency medicine
Emergency medicine is a medical specialty in which physicians care for patients with acute illnesses or injuries which require immediate medical attention. While not usually providing long-term or continuing care, emergency medicine physicians diagnose a variety of illnesses and undertake acute...

, who happened to be attending a professional conference in nearby Hanover
Hanover or Hannover, on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony , Germany and was once by personal union the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain, under their title as the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg...

, also provided assistance during the early hours of the rescue effort, as did units of the British Forces Germany
British Forces Germany
British Forces Germany , is the name for British Armed Forces service personnel and civilians based in Germany. It was first established following the Second World War as the British Army of the Rhine ....


While the driver and many passengers in the front part of the train survived, there was little chance of survival for those in the rear carriages, which crashed into the concrete bridge pile at a speed of 200 km/h. Including the two railway workers who had been standing under the bridge, 101 people died. ICE 787 had passed under the bridge going in the opposite direction (on the Hamburg to Hanover route) only two minutes earlier.

By 13:45 authorities gave emergency treatment to 87 people. 27 of the most severely injured passengers boarded airlifts for hospitalisation.

Accident statistics

  • Passengers: 287 (ICE-1 max. is 651)
  • Train crew: 6
  • Maintenance crew: 2
  • Fatalities: 101
  • Severe injuries: 88
  • Minor or no injury: 106

Wheel design

The ICE 1 trains were equipped with single-cast wheels, known as monobloc wheels. Once in service it soon became apparent that this design could, as a result of metal fatigue
Metal Fatigue
Metal Fatigue , is a futuristic science fiction, real-time strategy computer game developed by Zono Incorporated and published by Psygnosis and TalonSoft .-Plot:...

 and out-of-round conditions, result in resonance
In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies...

 and vibration at cruising speed. Passengers noticed this particularly in the restaurant car, where there were reports of loud vibrations in the dinnerware and of glasses "creeping" across tables.

Managers in the railway organisation had experienced these severe vibrations on a trip and tried to have the problem solved. In response engineers decided that to solve the problem, the suspension of ICE cars could be improved with the use of a rubber damping ring between the tire and the wheel body. A similar design had been employed successfully in trams (known as resilient wheels), though at significantly lower speeds. This new wheel, dubbed a "wheel-tire" design, consisted of a wheel body surrounded by a 20 mm thick rubber damper and then a relatively thin metal tire. The new design was not tested at high speed before it was made operational, but was successful at resolving the issue of vibration at cruising speeds.

At the time, no facilities existed in Germany that could test the actual failure limit of the wheels, and so complete prototypes were never tested physically. The design and specification relied greatly on available materials data and theory. The very few laboratory and rail tests that were performed did not measure wheel behaviour with extended wear conditions or greater than cruising speeds. Nevertheless, over a period of years the wheels proved themselves apparently reliable and, until the accident, had not caused any major problems.

The Fraunhofer Institute was charged with the task of determining the cause of the accident. It was revealed later that the institute had told the DB management as early as 1992 about its concerns about possible tire failure. In the months prior to the accident, Üstra
üstra Hannoversche Verkehrsbetriebe AG is the operator of public transport in the city of Hanover, Germany.From 2003 to 2006, it had outsourced its operations, but officially resumed as a service provider on January 1, 2007.- History :...

, the company that operates Hanover's tram network reported that the tires employed in its trains were failing much earlier than expected based on the failure limit estimates; it decided to replace the wheels much earlier than was legally required by the specification. In doing so, it reported its findings in a warning to all other users of wheels built with similar designs, including Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn AG is the German national railway company, a private joint stock company . Headquartered in Berlin, it came into existence in 1994 as the successor to the former state railways of Germany, the Deutsche Bundesbahn of West Germany and the Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany...


It was soon apparent that dynamic repetitive forces had not been accounted for in the statistical failure modelling done during the design phase, and the resulting design lacked an adequate margin of safety. The following factors, overlooked during design, were noted:
  1. The tires were flattened into an ellipse as the wheel turned through each revolution (approximately 500,000 times during a typical day in service on an ICE train), with corresponding fatigue effects.
  2. In contrast to the monoblock wheel design, cracks could also form on the inside of the tire.
  3. As the tire became thinner due to wear, the dynamic forces were exaggerated, resulting in crack growth.
  4. Flat spots and ridges or swells in the tire dramatically increased the dynamic forces on the assembly and greatly accelerated wear.

In July 1997, Üstra discovered fatigue cracks in dual block wheels on trams running at about 24 km/h (14.9 mph). It began changing wheels before fatigue cracks could develop; Üstra then messaged other railway companies. According to the tram company, in autumn 1997, when Üstra notified Deutsche Bahn, they replied by stating that they had not noticed problems in their trains.

Failure to stop train

Failing to stop the train permitted the wheel to disintegrate, resulting in a catastrophic series of events. Had the train been stopped immediately it is unlikely that the subsequent events would have occurred.

Valuable time was lost when a passenger tried to warn the train crew about a large piece of metal coming up through the floor, instead of pulling the emergency brake himself. The train manager refused to stop the train until he had investigated the problem himself, saying this was company policy. This decision was upheld in court, absolving the train manager of all charges.


About the time of the disaster, the engineers at Deutsche Bahn's maintenance facility in Munich used only standard flashlights for visual inspection of the tires, instead of metal fatigue detection equipment. Previously, advanced testing machines had been used; however, as the equipment generated many false positive error messages, it was considered unreliable and its use was discontinued. During the week prior to the Eschede disaster, three separate automated checks indicated that a wheel was defective. Investigators discovered, from a maintenance report generated by the train's on-board computer, that two months prior to the Eschede disaster, conductors and other train staff filed eight separate complaints about the noises and vibrations generated from the bogie
A bogie is a wheeled wagon or trolley. In mechanics terms, a bogie is a chassis or framework carrying wheels, attached to a vehicle. It can be fixed in place, as on a cargo truck, mounted on a swivel, as on a railway carriage/car or locomotive, or sprung as in the suspension of a caterpillar...

 with the defective wheel; the company did not replace the wheel. Deutsche Bahn said that its inspections were proper at the time and that the engineers could not have predicted the wheel fracture.

Other factors

The design of the overbridge may have also contributed to the accident because it had two thin piers holding up the bridge on either side, instead of the spans going from solid abutments to solid abutments. The Granville train disaster
Granville railway disaster
The Granville rail disaster occurred on 18 January 1977 at Granville, a suburb in western Sydney, when a crowded commuter train derailed, running into the supports of a road bridge which fell down onto two of its passenger carriages...

 of 1977 had a similar weakness in its bridge. The bridge built after the disaster is a cantilevered design
Cantilever bridge
A cantilever bridge is a bridge built using cantilevers, structures that project horizontally into space, supported on only one end. For small footbridges, the cantilevers may be simple beams; however, large cantilever bridges designed to handle road or rail traffic use trusses built from...

 and does not have this vulnerability.

Another contributing factor is the use of welds in the carriage bodies that "unzipped" during the crash (see Modern Railways
Modern Railways
Modern Railways is a British monthly magazine covering the rail transport industry published by Ian Allan. It has been published since 1962....

December 2004, p16).


Immediately after the accident, Deutsche Bahn paid 30,000 Deutsche Marks (about 19,000 United States dollar
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

s) for each fatality to the applicable families. At a later time Deutsche Bahn settled with some victims. Deutsche Bahn stated that it paid an equivalent of more than 30 million U.S. dollars to the families of victims and survivors.

In August 2002, two Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn AG is the German national railway company, a private joint stock company . Headquartered in Berlin, it came into existence in 1994 as the successor to the former state railways of Germany, the Deutsche Bundesbahn of West Germany and the Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany...

 officials and one engineer were charged with manslaughter
Manslaughter is a legal term for the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is said to have first been made by the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Dracon in the 7th century BC.The law generally differentiates...

. The trial lasted 53 days with expert witnesses from around the world testifying.

The case ended in a plea bargain
Plea bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to...

 in April 2003. According to the German code of criminal procedures, if the defendant has not been found to bear substantial guilt, and if the state attorney and the defendant agree, the defendant may pay a fine and the criminal proceedings are dismissed with prejudice and without a verdict. Each engineer paid 10,000 euros (around 12,000 USD).


Within weeks, all wheels of similar design were replaced with monoblock wheels. The entire German railway network was checked for similar arrangements of switches close to possible obstacles.

Rescue workers at the crash site experienced considerable difficulties in cutting their way through the train to gain access to the victims. Both the aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

 framework and the pressure-proof windows offered unexpected resistance to rescue equipment. As a result, all trains were refitted with windows that have predetermined breaking seams.


Udo Bauch, a survivor who became disabled by the accident, built his own memorial with his own money. Bauch said that the chapel received 5,000 to 6,000 visitors per year. One year after Bauch's memorial was built, an official memorial, funded partly by Deutsche Bahn, was established.

The official memorial was opened on 11 May 2001 in the presence of 400 relatives as well as many honourables, rescuers and citizens from Eschede. The memorial consists of 101 Wild Cherry trees
Prunus avium
Prunus avium, commonly called wild cherry, sweet cherry, bird cherry, or gean, is a species of cherry, native to Europe, west Turkey, northwest Africa, and western Asia, from the British Isles south to Morocco and Tunisia, north to the Trondheimsfjord region in Norway and east to the Caucasus, and...

 each representing one the fatalities. The trees have been planted along the rails near the bridge and with the switch in front. From the field a staircase leads up to the street and a gate - on the other side of the street a number stairs lead further up to nowhere. There is an inscription on the side of the stone gate and an inscription on a memorial wall that also lists the names of the fatalities placed at the center of the trees.
text on the gate:
Am 3. Juni 1998 um 10:58 Uhr zerschellte
an dieser Stelle der ICE 884 „Wilhelm-
Conrad-Röntgen“. 101 Menschen verloren
ihr Leben, ganze Familien wurden zerstört;
mehr als hundert Reisende wurden schwer
verletzt, viele tragen lebenslang an den
Folgen. Das Unglück hat die menschliche
Zerbrechlichkeit, Vergänglichkeit und
Unzulänglichkeit gezeigt. Beispielhaft und
aufopfernd haben Retter, Helfer und
Bürger des Ortes selbstlos eine schwere
Aufgabe angenommen, haben geholfen
und getröstet. Durch ihren Einsatz ist
Eschede auch ein Ort der Solidarität und
gelebter Mitmenschlichkeit geworden.

text on the memorial:
Der Lebensweg dieser 101 Menschen
endete in der Zugkatastrophe von

Auf unergründliche Weise kreuzten und
vollendeten sich hier ihre Schicksale.

In das Leid und die Trauer um die
geliebten Menschen mischt sich
Dankbarkeit, ihnen im Leben nahe
gewesen zu sein.

Trost ist die Hoffnung:
Sie ruhen in Gottes Hand.

1897 train accident

There had been a previous fatal but unrelated train accident at Eschede in 1897 - on August 4th the express train from Hamburg derailed causing 3 fatalities and 20 severe injuries.

See also

  • Metal fatigue
    Fatigue (material)
    'In materials science, fatigue is the progressive and localized structural damage that occurs when a material is subjected to cyclic loading. The nominal maximum stress values are less than the ultimate tensile stress limit, and may be below the yield stress limit of the material.Fatigue occurs...

  • List of rail disasters
  • 2006 Lathen maglev train accident
    2006 Lathen maglev train accident
    The Lathen train collision occurred on 22 September 2006 when a Transrapid magnetic levitation train collided with a maintenance vehicle near Lathen, Germany, killing 23 people...

     – high speed crash in Germany
  • Granville rail disaster - a similar accident in Australia, 1977
  • National Geographic Seconds From Disaster episodes

Further reading

  • O'Connor, Bryan, (NASA
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

    ), "Eschede Train Disaster", Leadership ViTS Meeting, May 7, 2007

External links

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