'23 dead' in German maglev train accident (Roundup)
Sep 22, 2006, 18:57 GMT
Lathen, Germany - Up to 23 people were killed on Friday when a high-speed maglev train collided with a maintenance vehicle in one of the worst rail accidents in Germany .
Police additionally confirmed that 10 people had survived the accident on a test track close to the town of Lathan but had sustained serious injuries.
'There's little hope of finding anyone alive in the wreckage,' said a police spokesman seven hours after the collision on an elevated test track in Emsland, northern Germany.
The driverless train was travelling at 200 kilometres per hour when the crash occurred at 9:59 a.m. (0759 GMT) near the town of Lathen, close to the Dutch border.
It was not clear what caused the accident, but a spokesman for the operators of the track said initial investigations appeared to rule out a technical fault, indicating that human error was to blame.
'This accident would not have been possible if all regulations were adhered to,' said Rudolf Schwarz, head of operators IABG, who additionally pledged to clarify the circumstances surrounding the accident 'as soon as possible.'
State prosecutors in the city of Osnabrueck also said human error was the likely cause of the crash but did not rule out a problem with radio communications.
Wreckage and victims' clothing were strewn along a 400-metre stretch of the 31.5-kilometre-long test track, as the damaged train perched precariously overhead, four metres above the ground.
Part of the roof of the two-coach train was sliced off in the impact.
Firemen used turntable ladders and aerial platforms to attend to the injured. Some 150 people were involved in the rescue operation.
The 10 survivors suffered serious injures and were helicoptered to nearby hospitals for treatment.
Maglev trains, called Transrapid in German, float on a magnetic field and are propelled by a linear induction motor. They follow guidance tracks with magnets.
Some of the passengers aboard the train were family members and friends of employees who work for the firm that operates the track. Others worked for the energy provider RWE.
Two people working on the maintenance vehicle were among the injured.
Private groups are often taken for pleasure trips on the maglev, which is capable of speeds of up to 450 kilometres per hour.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to the crash scene and Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee cut short a trip to China after hearing the news.
The chancellor and German President Horst Koehler sent their condolences to the families of the victims and thanked those who took part in the rescue operations.
The maglev was developed by German firms Siemens and ThyssenKrupp between 1980 and 1984. The test track in Germany, the longest in the world, has been in operation since 1984.
The German consortium built the world's only commercial maglev line, which links the Chinese city of Shanghai with its international airport at Pudong 30 kilometres away.
Negotiations are currently under way for a 160-kilometre extension of the line to Hangzhou.
On August 11, a fire occurred on a maglev train as it was leaving Shanghai's Longyang station, but the passengers were able to escape and there were no reports of injuries.
Plans to build commercial operations in Germany have all failed because of the huge costs involved.
Talks on a 38-kilometre-Transrapid link from Munich to its airport are stalled over who will foot the 1.85-billion-euro (2.35-billion- dollar) bill.
ThyssenKrupp this week threatened to sell the technology to China if work on the Munich line does not go ahead in the near future.
Transportation Minister Tiefensee said Friday's accident would not have any bearing on the outcome of the Munich project.
Germany's worst ever railway accident occurred in June 1998 when a high speed Inter-City train crashed into a bridge support in the town of Eschede, killing 101 people.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur