Two Managers on Trial Over Deadly German Train Crash | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.05.2008
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Two Managers on Trial Over Deadly German Train Crash

Two German engineers went on trial Tuesday, May 6, accused of negligence in the deadly crash of a high-speed magnetic levitation train that killed 23 people.

The rubble of a Transrapid car after the accident in 2006

Wreckage dangled over the elevated test track after the deadly crash

Two engineers responsible for supervising a high-speed magnetic levitation train project in Germany went on trial Tuesday, May 6, after a test run went awry in September 2006, killing 23 people and injuring 11.

The two men in the dock, the managing director of the test track at the time of the crash and his predecessor, are charged with causing death and injury through negligence for failing to ensure the necessary safety precautions along the monorail test track. They could face up to five years in prison.

Public prosecutor Hubert Feldkamp said the stretch of track surrounding the area in which the maintenance vehicle was working should have been shut off automatically as the Transrapid approached.

"If the safety system had simply been activated, this deadly crash would never have happened," Feldkamp said.

Worst rail disaster since 1998

The Transrapid -- as the maglev train is known --was travelling at 160 km/h (100 mph) along the monorail track when it crashed into a parked maintenance vehicle on a test track near the western town of Lathen.

The driver was among those killed in the crash, Germany's worst rail disaster since 1998 when 101 people died as an express train derailed and smashed into a bridge near the northern town of Eschede.

One of the defendants, a 50-year-old, went on the stand saying fault lay with the head supervisor and his staff, who allowed the test to proceed although the 50-ton service vehicle was on the track.

“I am convinced I carried out all of my duties completely without error,” news agency Reuters reported him as saying before the district court in Osnabrueck.

"A turn of events"

Overhead view of Shanghai's mag-lev train

The world's first commercial maglev train operates between Shanghai's Pudong International Airport and the city's financial district

The 50-year-old also testified that prior to the accident there had been a serious argument among supervisors. One of his colleagues supposedly told him about this after the crash. Just after the high-speed train collided with the maintainance vehicle, another engineer who had heard of the conflict supposedly yelled out, “…and we forgot to set the electronic lock.”

One attorney representing the victims and their families said that statement marked a “turn of events.”

When asked whether the accident could have been avoided if there had been no conflict among supervisors, the 50-year-old engineer replied: “it is likely that the argument distracted those around and that they forgot what was happening around them.”

The 50-year-old defendant was not present at the test track on the day of the accident. Proceedings against the other defendant, the 67-year-old supervisor who was on charge at the time, have been delayed as he has been declared a suicide risk.

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