PASSENGERS travelling on one of German Railway’s ICE services on the Hannover - Hamburg main line had a lucky escape on November 17. Their train was close to Bienenbüttel, near Lüneburg, when it passed through a crossover limited to 80 km/h at around 180 km/h. The ICE did not derail, but cups in the dining car flew through the air and several passengers were knocked over.

The driver had a full line speed indication from his LZB inductive train control apparatus, but he spotted a distant signal indicating that his train was routed over the crossover, although this was not reflected on the LZB in the cab. He promptly applied emergency braking, and the reduction in speed before the train struck into the crossover may just have saved his train from disaster.

DB’s subsequent investigation established that a relay had not been functioning correctly in the interlocking. The fault had not been discovered because that particular route had apparently never been set - nor, presumably, tested - since installation in 1979; no fault was found in the LZB. DB at once examined another 400 identical installations, and two similar faults were identified.

Another incident occurred on the evening of November 15 when trains passing an ICE service near Offenbach on the Karlsruhe - Basel main line reported smoke pouring from the rear power car. The driver had noticed a problem and halted the train, allowing the blazing vehicle and the adjacent trailer to be detached; all passengers detrained safely.

Karlsruhe - Basel had been in the news in October when the Federal Railway Office had ordered the CIR-ELKE computerised signalling and traffic control system to be switched off. Intended to increase line capacity by up to 40%, Computer Integrated Railroading - Erhöhung der Leistungsfähigkeit im Kernnetz (Capacity Increase on the Core Network) went live on June 22 last year, paving the way for some of the lineside signalling to be dismantled. With CIR-ELKE out of use, DB was forced to operate over long block sections between stations, severely reducing capacity.

The problem was related to inaccuracies in the on-board distance-travelled measuring equipment, with nine incidents of trains reporting their position to be up to 100m from their true location during July to September. Investigations found that the inaccuracies did not exceed specified tolerances, with the location errors no worse than when a 300m LZB loop fails. As there was found to be no danger, CIR-ELKE was switched back on at the end of November.

  • Legislation enacting the findings of the Rail Task Force (RG 11.01 p727) has been delayed until after the next German election in September.