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Five Dead in Head-on Train Crash in Austria

August 29, 1988

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Two trains collided head-on in western Austria near the West German border, killing five people and injuring 52, authorities said.

The general director of the Austrian Railroad Authority, Heinrich Uebleis, said human error probably caused the accident, the worst in Austria in 17 years.

The accident at 12:37 p.m. on an overpass outside the Wolfurt train station in the western province of Vorarlberg involved a train en route to West Germany from Vienna and an express train headed for the Alpine city of Innsbruck from the West German border town of Lindau, said a spokesman for the Austrian Railroad Authority.

Guntram Fonach, a civilian rescue official in the district of Laudrach, where the accident occured, said five people were killed and 52 injured. He said 19 were seriously hurt and had to be taken to hospital.

The trains were moving along the same track, when they collided, crushing one car and derailing two others. No debris fell to the road below.

A passenger interviewed by Austrian TV said there was no warning.

″Nothing. There was a crash and then it was over. Nothing,″ she said.

A man sitting on a blanket in the grass near the wreck said: ″It happened so fast.″

Ernst Tscherett of the Railway Authority who was interviewed by television at the scene, said the accident appeared to have been caused by human error on the part of the engineer of the train from West Germany.

Railroad officials said one track was closed, and trains headed into Austria had to be transfered to the opposite track. The express train from West Germany should have stopped outside the Wolfurt station to wait for a signal to move to the opposite track, they said.

However, it continued through the red signal, although it had slowed and was only traveling at a speed of about 27 mph at impact, Uebleis said. He said the other train was traveling at about 45 mph.

″The technology was in order,″ Uebleis said. ″Human error seems to exist,″ he said.

Officials refused to identify the dead and injured.

Walther Kollerits, of the railway authority said the driver of the train from Vienna was among the dead, as was a 67-year-old woman. He said there were many West Germans on the trains, but refused to give the nationality of the dead or injured.

The tracks were closed to traffic, and international trains were being rerouted via Switzerland or West Germany, he said.

Firefighters and railway workers began clearing the wreckage from the track and searching for any passengers who might be trapped in the debris.

Update hourly