ICE 1 crash at Eschede, 3rd June 1998

On 3rd June 1998, the ICE 884 "WILHELM CONRAD RÖNTGEN" (München Hbf - Hamburg-Altona) derailed near Eschede, north of Hannover, at a speed of 200 km/h. Most of the train crashed into the pillar of a concrete bridge over the track, the remains of two cars were buried under the ruins of the bridge. The accident caused 100 deaths and 88 injuries (earlier reports about 300 injuries were based on assumptions that the train was much more crowded).

Cause of the accident

The accident was caused by a broken wheel tyre on the third axle of the first middle car (802 808-6). The wheels of the ICE 1 middle cars were originally of the "monobloc" type - made of one piece of steel with no separate tyre - like those of the power cars and the middle cars of the other ICE generations. However, these wheels became unround with time and caused vibrations which the steel springs of the bogies transmitted into the carbody. The pneumatic suspension of the ICE 2 and later generations works better with monobloc wheels because any vibrations caused by the wheels are dampened better. On the ICE 1, it was chosen to install new wheels of the type "Bochum 84", manufactured by VSG, with a layer of rubber between the body and the tyre. Such wheels are common for light rail vehicles, but not for high speed trains. The wheel "Bochum 84" was designed for speeds of up to 284 km/h.

An undiscovered crack on the inside of the tyre became longer under the fatigue loading of the rotation and caused the tyre to break in the end - something which never occurred before with this wheel type. See NDTnet for the problem of discovering cracks in material before they cause accidents.

How the accident happened

About 6 km before the location of the accident, the tyre broke, but did not cause a derailment yet. About 200 m before the bridge, the tyre was caught in the flange guide of a switch, which broke off and derailed the first car to the right hand side. 120 m later, the derailed axle hit another switch, which caused the next bogie to go off track. The third car went far enough from the track to destroy a concrete pillar of the bridge, and was separated from the rest of the train. This triggered an emergency brake in both parts of the train. The bridge came down slow enough that the fourth car could pass it without being hit, but was catapulted to the side. The fifth car was cut in half by the bridge, the sixth was buried under the bridge, and the rest of the train crashed right into it.

After the accident, the speed limit of all ICE 1 and ICE 2 trains was lowered to 160 km/h for the time of the investigation, and it was decided that the wheels may only be worn down from 920 mm to 890 mm, not 854 mm as before. The ICE 1 trains are now only allowed to operate with monobloc wheels. All of them are gradually being rebuilt; until this is done, the ICE 1 trainsets are reconfigured to shorter trains with only eight middle cars.

Since the accident until 1st July 1998, many ICE trains did not circulate. Many of them were replaced by ICE 2 and locomotive-hauled trains. The most spectacular of these replacement services was the operation of a THALYS PBKA between Köln and Hamburg on some days.

The crashed train

The involved train was an ICE 1 with the following composition:
0401 051-8power carstayed on track and stopped about 2 km later by emergency application of disk brakes
1802 808-62nd class derailed and came to a halt about 300 m after the bridge
2802 609-8
3802 311-1crashed into the bridge
4802 374-9 was catapulted into a forest next to the line
5802 340-0destroyed by the falling bridge, one half of it came to a halt about 100 m after the bridge
6802 373-1buried under remains of the bridge, mostly destroyed
7802 037-2
9803 008-2service car
10804 010-7restaurant
11801 009-21st class
12801 014-2
14801 806-1not damaged by bridge, but compressed by power car
15401 551-7power carrelatively undamaged
Meanwhile the DBAG took the decision to repair the least damaged elements of the train (401 051-8, 802 808-6, 802 609-8 and 401 551-7) and take them back into regular service afterwards.

Here are links to some other information pages about the crash: