Head on collision near Szczekociny


16 dead, 57 injured…

Poland’s worst railway accident in 22 years

The aftermath of the collision. Photo SE.pl

(Click image to see the photograph in its original context on SE.pl.)

The accident site the following morning. Photo zawiercie.naszemiasto.pl.

(Click image to see the original in context on zawiercie.naszemiasto.pl.)

At 20:57 on Saturday 3 March, two passenger trains collided near the small town of Szczekociny in Slask province. IR 13126 – the 18:18 ex Warszawa Wschodnia to Krakow Glowny – collided head on with TLK 31100 – the 14:46 ex Przemysly Glowny to Warszawa Wschodnia.

The disaster is Poland’s most serious railway accident since the ‘Ursus’ accident of 1990. 16 passengers are reported killed – 9 of whom have been identified; 57 injured passengers were taken to 14 different hospitals – 3 are in a critical state.

The immediate cause of the accident was that both trains were running towards each other on the same track. While it is premature to speculate on the exact chain of events that led to the accident, we can be identify 5 key factors that have contributed to the spate of serious accidents that have plagued Polish railways in recent years:

  1. Low profile role played by (and given to!) the UTK (Office of Rail Transport), Poland’s rail regulator. UTK is currently without a Chief Executive!
  2. Fragmented responsibilities caused by fragmented rail industry. A comparable spate of accidents occurred in the UK after British Rail a upa  and privatised.
  3. Rapid change in working practices occurring in railway industry, AND…
  4. A ‘Command and control’ management culture where the views of the staff responsible for service delivery are ignored by middle and senior management.
  5. Inadequate funding for Poland’s railway infrastructure. Those funds that are voted by the Sejm (Poland’s parliament) not trickling down to where it is needed, but used to pay off PKP’s debts.

Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski has declared the 5 and 6 March day’s of national mourning. Is it too much to hope that some good may come from this dreadful tragedy and that Prime Minister Tusk and his ministers will rethink government policy with respect to Poland’s beleaguered railways?


Railmap map showing the location of Szczekociny.

(To see this location on a map which can be scrolled and zoomed, click the image above.)


3 Responses to “Head on collision near Szczekociny”

  1. Martin Says:

    A terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to all the victims. If anyone hears of a fund to benefit the bereaved families and the injured passengers, I’d appreciate hearing about it.

    It is, of course, always important to remember that the current death toll is still less than two days of the average carnage on Polish roads and rail is a hugely safe form of transport.

  2. ngugi Says:

    I mourn for the victims.

    At the same time, I have some questions about the Polish railway system. I’m Korean, and I don’t understand Polish or Russian or German so I haven’t much information on Polish railway practice.

    1. In the picture, the section of railway is electrified. Generally, electrification entails automatic signalling. What kinds of signalling was used in that section?

    2. Maybe, one of cause of the accident was miss-operation of the railroad switch. What was the organizational structure of that section’s traffic control. (In Korea, traffic control is currently operated by a public railway corporation, but the government, plans to transfer traffic control power to some new organization. Many people thinks that this is the prelude to the privatization of the railway. This is reason for my question.)

    3. What is that section’s traffic scale? How many freight trains and passenger trains pass that section per day? Is that line a trunk of the Polish railway network?

    4. Do you think that main cause of this accident is and operational mistake or the result of government policy. Isn’t the Polish railway industry itself decline, like other countries in which heavy industry has declined (e.g North Korea)? If so, can this decline be reversed?

  3. White Horse Pilgrim Says:

    This is terrible and my thoughts are with the victims.

    My question also is: what sort of signalling is in place? I’d expect that, on a bidirectional track, the signaller at the far end of the section would need to accept the train and perform actions that locked his signals before those at the near end could be cleared. In that case such an accident could only occur if a signaller ‘took a release’ in order to override the interlocking or if a driver over-ran a signal at danger and entered the single line. Or are Polish signals not as effectively interlocked as those in the West?

    The difference between this accident and those in Britain, incidentally, is that the Railtrack-era problems tended to involve inexcusable defective maintenance that caused accidents as a result of cost-cutting. The immediate failure was that speed restrictions weren’t put in place or repairs carried out. Maintainers are now very quick to slap TSRs on. This seems like something else, though poor management and cost-cutting might also be to blame.

    Reports as to the mental state of the signaller post-accident does suggest that he made a mistake, either because ineffective interlocking allowed him to or because he over-rode something – say, flagged the train on because the signal would not clear. If he was working excessive hours or was being pressured by management then he too might be considered a victim.

    I will also comment, as a railway worker, that it is the responsibility of every employee to operate safety-critical systems diligently. That means operating signalling equipment according to well documented rules. One can blame the economic situation, bad management, corruption or whatever, safe separation of trains still comes down to a signaller following basic rules. We’re far enough beyond time interval working and bobbies with flags to have a fundamentally safe system when it is used properly.

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