History of Europe

Transrapid accident:23 people die during a test drive

On September 22, 2006, a Transrapid crashed into a maintenance vehicle on the test track in Emsland at a speed of 170 km/h. 23 people die, eleven others are injured, some seriously.

A late summer morning ended a hitherto flawless success story. The Transrapid magnetic levitation train has been making its rounds on the test track near Lathen in Emsland since 1984, with more than 500,000 visitors taking part. Over the years, the high-speed line between Meppen and Papenburg developed into a magnet for visitors without a single accident worth mentioning - until September 22, 2006.

Impact at 170 kilometers per hour

The last visitor journey of the Transrapid takes only one minute. At around 9.55 a.m., the maglev train with 31 people on board crashed into a maintenance vehicle at a speed of 170 km/h. 23 people die and eleven others are injured, some seriously. At the scene of the accident, the picture is horrifying:Wreckage and debris are thrown up to 300 meters. The first rescue workers, who arrive around 10.15 a.m., have difficulty reaching the destroyed Transrapid:it is standing in its lane on stilts several meters high. The full extent of the catastrophe only becomes clear after hours. At 7:25 p.m., helpers recover the last victim.

Transrapid train driver is not to blame

A report commissioned by the public prosecutor from the Federal Railway Office describes the accident as follows:"The front of the Transrapid 08 drove under the special vehicle, which then penetrated the first vehicle section like a punch and completely destroyed it". According to the report, the deceased driver of the Transrapid is not to blame:since he had to check various instruments after the start, the experts believe that he was only able to look at the track again and trigger an emergency brake shortly before the impact.

Committee of Inquiry Finds Human Error

This maintenance vehicle blocked the route and thus triggered the accident.

An investigative committee of the Lower Saxony state parliament determined eight months. At the same time, the public prosecutor's office is also looking for the cause of the accident. In essence, both come to the conclusion in September 2007:human error was to blame for the accident. The dispatcher had therefore forgotten the maintenance vehicle, which was still on the route after a control drive.

Prosecutors are charging the man and a colleague with manslaughter and bodily harm. The proceedings are initially suspended as both men are unable to stand trial. They are considered suicidal. They will not be tried until March 2011. They admit the allegations and ask the survivors for forgiveness in front of the Osnabrück Regional Court. The verdict is one year and six months and one year for the two accused. The court suspends the prison sentences and also imposes fines.

Factory manager sentenced to fines

A route closure would have prevented the catastrophe.

The manager of the test track and his predecessor also have to answer to the Osnabrück district court. The public prosecutor accuses them of negligent homicide because there were no clear regulations as to when a route should be closed. Such a route closure in the affected section could have prevented the accident. As it turned out, however, it was not set. In May 2008, the court sentenced the two engineers to fines for negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm.

The judges see it as proven that the men were responsible for the "incomplete safety concept" on the Transrapid test track. They should have instructed all dispatchers to block the route when workshop vehicles are on the route. This was stipulated by the manufacturer and should have been a "mandatory rule" in Lathen as well, the court determined.

Opposition demands resignation of transport minister

Politically, the Transrapid accident made waves. In September 2007, the opposition in the state parliament accused the state government of being partly to blame for the catastrophe and demanded the resignation of the then transport minister, Walter Hirche (FDP). But the accident has no political consequences.

Test track must close

From 2008, a successor to the accident Transrapid will be tested in Emsland. But at the end of 2011 the test track came to an end and around 60 employees lost their jobs. Industry no longer invests in further research because the Transrapid project is not a commercial success. Plans for various routes in Germany are not realized. There is only one connection in the world on which a magnetic levitation train runs regularly:in Shanghai, China.

Hyperloop tests on old track?

After the test track was shut down, there was a long debate about its dismantling - in particular the question of who should bear the costs. Meanwhile, considerations are being made to reactivate the old Transrapid test track for current scientific purposes. Scientists there want to research the mobility of the future as part of a European Hyperloop research and technology center. The Hyperloop system, which could be the focus there, combines magnetic levitation technology with the pneumatic tube principle and is said to be able to bring trains to supersonic speeds. But despite funding from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science, the question of funding remains open.

In March 2021, the Chinese railway company "China Railway Rolling Stock" (CRRC) expressed an interest in using the test track with the aim of further developing magnetic levitation technology for high-speed trains. According to the test track operating company Intis, however, a number of legal approval issues would first have to be clarified.