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Fallen tree stops ICE at poorly accessible spot

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Freiwillige Feuerwehr Oschatz (Saxony)

Operation: Train accident

At 10:23 pm on August 18, 2017, the Oschatz Volunteer Fire Department was called to a highly unusual operation – in every respect. It began with the alarm “TH1 illuminate railway line, ICE at kilometer 46.9 in direction of travel”, together with neighbouring fire departments. The site could not be immediately found, meaning that the FD had to search for the affected ICE.

The train had crashed into a tree that had been downed in a storm and was stopped in a difficult-to-access place. The first exploration by the head of operations offered only a very confusing picture. The fully occupied ICE had already been stopped at the site for 1.5 hours and the Deutsche Bahn technicians had not yet succeeded in turning off the current to the overhead line.

Because passengers in need of medical help had made an emergency call, a rescue crew was also requested. The difficult terrain necessitated illumination, chain saws and portable ladders to create an access point to the train. 

After shutting down the power supply to the overhead line, three persons who needed medical care were evacuated from the train and transported to the hospital.

Despite the FD’s concerns, the Deutsche Bahn technicians insisted on towing the incapacitated ICE to the next train station without evacuating the passengers. In the further course of the operation, a number of salvage attempts by the Deutsche Bahn failed. Due to the breakdown of sanitary facilities and air conditioning, the FD began bringing their own fire station beverages to the remaining passengers.

Because several pregnant women also began having medical difficulties due to the rising room temperatures, the head of operations demanded that the Deutsche Bahn provide a replacement ICE at the nearest train station. He removed the situation from the jurisdiction of the railway officials and prompted the immediate evacuation of the remaining 175 persons. The transport of these people to the next station was also organised by the FD. Due to the perfect coordination between the forces of the FD, police and emergency services, 175 persons were able to be evacuated within 45 minutes despite the poorly accessible terrain.

Vehicles provided by the FD, local and national police as well as taxis transported 173 persons to the next train station. As a precautionary measure, two pregnant women were brought to a hospital by ambulance.

After the beginning of the evacuation, all passengers had been brought to safety or to the replacement ICE within 75 minutes. Jurisdiction was then transferred back to the Deutsche Bahn and all forces could return home after circa seven hours.

Several days later, the Deutsche Bahn thanked the FD for its professional help. The FD also received great praise from the passengers of the wrecked train.