Probe continues into train accident

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Officials at state railway NSB are investigating why one of the brand new trains in its major new upgrade program was traveling at a speed far too high for the tracks where it was on a test run last week. The high speed caused the train to derail, injuring all five persons on board and leaving the new train a complete wreck.

Last week's derailment has delayed the roll-out of NSB's new trains called "Flirt," short for "Fast Light Innovative Regional Train." PHOTO: NSB/Åge Christoffer Lundeby

State accident investigators and NSB officials themselves already have concluded that speed was the “direct reason” for the accident, which occurred on a stretch of track just past a spot where speed limits drop from 130 kilometers per hour (kph) to 70kph because of a curve.

Investigators have determined that the new train, out on a test run with personnel from both NSB and the train’s builder Stadler of Switzerland on board, was rolling at 135kph in the 70kph zone. “It’s completely clear that the speed of 135kph was the direct reason for the accident,” Tom Ingulstad, director of passenger traffic for NSB, told newspaper Aftenposten.

Neither Ingulstad nor investigators can explain why the train hadn’t slowed down, raising questions of either human error or technical breakdown. “Why in the world was the train holding at 135kph on such a curve?” Ingulstad wondered. “Why hadn’t the train braked down? We still have to find answers.”

Police have questioned the man who was at the controls of the locomotive, but won’t say what he has said. The state commission that investigates accidents, Havarikommisjon, is responsible for filing an official report on the accident.

The lower speed limit on the tracks between Nykirke and Holmestrand is posted a kilometer before the curve. According to Aftenposten, the brakes weren’t applied until the train had reached the curve. Eleven seconds later, the new train derailed and crashed into the hillside.

No earlier problems
The accident is a major setback for NSB’s roll-out of the new Swiss-built trains that are part of a major upgrade of Norway’s  long-troubled train system. Testing of the new trains had been proceeding very well, and the train involved in Wednesday’s derailment already had driven 13,652 kilometers in Norway “completely without problems,” Ingulstad said.

NSB has ordered 50 of the so-called “Flirt” trains, with an option for 100 more. Ten have arrived in Norway so far, but NSB hadn’t formally taken delivery of the train that derailed and paid just 25 percent of its NOK 70 million price tag, reported Aftenposten. It remained unclear who would pay for the wreck, but Ingulstad said both NSB and Stadler had full insurance coverage.

The new trains were supposed to start running in regularly scheduled service next week. That’s been delayed indefinitely, at least until the accident commission wraps up its investigation. NSB crews were expected to clear the wreckage by Tuesday. Commuter train service on the line, known as Vestfoldbanen, would resume when tracks had been repaired.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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