Train engineer charged in derailment

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The locomotive engineer who was at the controls of a brand-new train on a test run when it derailed last week has been charged in the accident, while police and a state commission continue their investigation.

Police in Vestfold County confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday that charges have been filed against the engineer, one of two on board the train when the accident occurred. Three other employees of state railway NSB and the train’s manufacturer, Stadler of Switzerland, were on the train as well. All were injured, none seriously.

Speed a major issue
It’s already been determined that the train was running at a speed of 135 kilometers per hour (kph) in an area of track where the posted speed limit was 70 kph leading into a curve. The train was still rolling at 135 kph before the brakes were activated, after which the train overturned, ran off the tracks and crashed into a hillside.

Preliminary investigation has found no technical deficiencies with the train itself, raising questions that human error was behind the failure to brake well before the curve. The 70 kph limit is posted about a kilometer before the curve but it remains unclear whether the engineer saw the sign.

Questions have also been raised around how familiar the engineers conducting the test run were with the line known as Vestfoldbanen, which runs between Vestfold (Tønsberg) and Oslo. The accident caused extensive damage to the tracks at Nykirke, near Holmestrand, but the line was due to reopen Thursday after major repairs.

NSB not commenting yet
NSB officials didn’t want to comment on the charges filed against their locomotive engineer, saying only that the investigation is important for clearing up the cause of the accident. Nor would they say whether the engineer’s continued employment at NSB was in jeopardy because of the accident.

“This is for the police and prosecutors to comment on,” NSB spokeswoman Mai-Bente Paulsen told NRK. “We don’t want to jump to any conclusions before the accident report is complete.” The engineer’s tenure in his job would be “a personnel issue” between him and NSB, she said.

It was initially feared the accident would be a major setback for the introduction of the new Stadler trains in Norway, but hopes seemed to be rising that the major transport improvement program could move forward, albeit without the train that’s now been declared a complete wreck. It was valued at around NOK 70 million.

If there’s no fault found with either the new trains or the tracks on which they’ll run, they may be able to safely start running as planned, with locomotive engineers’ heightened awareness of speed limits posted.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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