After several serious rail accidents with deaths and injuries, german railroads (DB) plans to equip some 600 older signal boxes with additional safety technology over the next five years.
In a first step, up to 50 signal boxes nationwide are to be modernized this year, a DB spokeswoman told the deutsche presse agency. On the list of the first facilities to be targeted for this purpose is the interlocking in aichach near augsburg, where a passenger train collided with a stationary freight train in may 2018. The 37-year-old driver of the bavarian regiobahn train and a 73-year-old female passenger died, 14 passengers were injured, some seriously.
The augsburg public prosecutor’s office has been investigating the DB dispatcher since the accident on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and other crimes. The investigation is still ongoing, and the public prosecutor’s office has not yet released details of the cause of the accident. It is not yet possible to predict when a possible trial will take place.
In the 600 mechanical and electromechanical interlockings planned for retrofitting, the dispatchers have so far only checked by sight which tracks are clear. The railroad employees are supported artificially by technology. "If, for example, the dispatcher makes a mistake when checking the track, the technology can block the entry when the track is occupied," explained the railroad spokeswoman.
Newer interlockings are already equipped with so-called track vacancy detection systems that prevent train movements on occupied tracks. DB has a total of around 2,700 signal boxes nationwide, of which around 1,000 still use old technology. In recent years, the railroad has already reduced the number of these small installations. The remaining plants have now been assessed according to criteria such as the number of trains and the speed at which they are driven to determine which ones need to be modernized.
In addition to aichach, the signal boxes in stadtallendorf in central hesse, salem on lake constance, niebull (schleswig-holstein) and berlin-lichtenberg are to be rusted this year. DB first wants to test the technology in north rhine-westphalia in kerken-nieukerk on the koln-kleve line and in utting in upper bavaria on the mehring-weilheim line. These two pilot plants were currently being rerouted and went into operation shortly, the spokeswoman said.
Complete modernization of all 600 signal boxes to take until 2023. The railroad expects costs in the amount of 90 million euros. Funding is currently being discussed with the federal ministry of transport, he said.
Serious rail accidents occur time and again due to mistakes made by train dispatchers. In december 2017, for example, around 50 people were injured near meerbusch in north rhine-westphalia when a regional train collided with a good train. In february 2016, 12 people were killed and 89 passengers injured when two commuter trains collided near bad aibling in upper bavaria. The dispatcher had been playing with his cell phone and thus sent the wrong signals. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
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