Train accident takes two lives

Rongiõnnetus Raasikul

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

«I just prayed God keep us alive,» said Margit, a survivor among the hundred-some train riders who were spared in the truck-against-train crash, yesterday. Two died and twelve were hurt in the accident.

Rööbastelt välja paiskunud Tallinna-Tartu rong painutas kõveraks ka rööpad.

PHOTO: Mihklel Maripuu

Veoauto kabiin oli nii deformeerunud, et selle juhi surnukeha kättesaamiseks kulus päästjatel üle kolme tunni.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

Õnnetuskohal käisid eile ka Elroni juhatuse esimees Andrus Ossip (vasakult), majandusministeeriumi kantsler Marika Priske, majandusminister Urve Palo ja Eesti Raudtee peadirektor Ahti Asmann.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

«After the accident, my daughter wept, looked me in the eye and said mommy I love you,» said Margit. «It was just terrible. The second birthday, one may say. One lady had glass fly into her head... As the ambulance arrived, her heart rate was missing.»

Anu Metsaorg of Raasiku Commune, the first policeman on the spot, was standing at the stay-away tape a couple of hours after the incident, feeling sorry that the barrier long talked about and promised has still not materialised.

«We were sitting in the last car (the fourth – edit) with three kids,» said Margit. «A lady said she saw a truck coming at a high speed and she could not figure out who’d be first – we or the truck. She was hoping that the truck would make it, but it did not. It smacked the train into the side,» related the lady.

The Tallinn-Tartu passenger train in question departed Balti Jaam Station at 2.55 pm. At 3.19 pm, at the Raasiku crossing, a dumper truck coming at about 70 kilometres an hour (43.5 mph) hit its third wagon and, swung by the impact, tore off part of the fourth.  

The two wagons that were hit came off the rails, skidding along for a couple of hundred metres. In the third wagon, the one hit by the truck, a lady 43 years of age was killed, having been sitting at the spot of the impact. 12 people were injured. Of these, seven were hospitalised, five were in need of first aid. 

Swift rescue

The truck was thrown into the ditch by the railway, breaking off a large post that stood on its way. Whatever was left of the driver (59) who had probably been carrying gravel or sand around the Raasiku area, was cut out of the driving cabin three hours after the wreck.

Margit, the lady on the train, continued: «We were lucky to be sitting higher up (in the two-level train – edit). I bought first class tickets, you see. Had we been sitting down lower, we’d be seriously hurt I guess. There were relatively few passengers at the back part of the train. We had glass cast all over us, my whole head is full of broken glass. All the glasses broke and everything was flying around inside the train. It happened so suddenly. I had my whole life pass before mine eyes.»

«There was such a bang that I run upstairs to see if something happened with my wife. Then, we looked out the window and I saw this cloud of dust over the railway crossing,» described Jüri Muru, a man living in the house closest to the crossing, some 300 metres away. «The first bang was followed by several others,» added the man. Beholding the remains of the truck and the damage done to the train, he could picture how the follow-up banks came about, the truck hitting the train twice and then mowing down the post.

«In a couple of minutes, the local police was there; then those from further away; then came the ambulance, the rescuers,» he recalled.

In addition to railway workers nearby, Mr Muru was among the first to arrive at the scene. «By then, many had exited the train and were standing nearby. Some who were the fastest had come all the way to the crossing,» said the man.

«Lorries come all day long – carrying gravel and sand. Probably, this was a driver that was daily around here, working,» said Mr Muru. From his home window, he sees how many a truck driver never slows down approaching the railway – from one side, the speed limit id 70 km/h, and 90 km/h (56 mph) from the other. «At the time of the impact, the driver had the sun behind his back, so he couldn’t have been blinded by it,» the man muttered, thinking aloud.

According to Margit, the men on the train were kind and helpful. «They helped those who were hurt and assisted people getting out of the train. There was smoke and dust everywhere. They helped to get the [personal] things out. Quite fast, the rescue board and ambulance arrived. To my surprise, frankly. In ten minutes they were there.»

Train no more

Margit does not take a train daily. «They always say the wagon at the back is the safest. I was saved thanks to having paid two-three euros extra, taking the train this one time a year, so were in the first class. Had we been down there, maybe we would not be alive,» said Margit, convinced she’d be never riding a train again.  

«The Raasiku crossing safety has been up for a long time. Since the last year’s tragic accident with the passenger car here, where a woman was killed, we gathered an entire round-table with the Raasiku commune mayor who was then in the office – representative of police, rescue board, Estonian Railways, commune government, and neighbourhood watch – in order to clarify the danger spots and prevent accidents,» said the local policewoman Anu Metsaorg.

«At long last, two crossings in Raasiku Commune have barriers, but Raasiku still hasn’t – even though the talk was that by the end of this winter Estonian Railways would have it installed,» said she.

Also, people had told the policewoman, that there had been problems at the crossing at mid-day, the day before – with warning lights, which were not on. Following the accident, the lights were on. Allegedly, they we also on at the time of the accident.

The policewoman admitted that the barriers may not help avoid an accident. «I have seen a father driving, with a child at his side, doing slalom between the barriers across the railway,» said Ms Metsaorg, grieved at the carelessness.

According to Estonian Railways director-general Ahti Asmann, a barrier for Raasiku is surely coming – as was decided when analysing the accident of last August – but he said things aren’t built that fast. «In March we started coordinating the project design criteria, then comes project design work, then construction. And, by August, the Raasiku crossing ought to have the barriers,» promised Mr Asmann.

He also explained that all the crossings have had their risks assessed, the requirements fixed. «Even in its current form, the Raasiku crossing corresponds to requirements. But, guided by advice given last year, we will install a barrier,» said Mr Asmann.

According to Mr Asmann, all crossings do not need a barrier, and to build these everywhere would be very costly. «Between Tallinn and Tartu, there is a crossing at every 4.5 kilometres, on average,» said he.

Elron CEO Andrus Ossip stood sadly by the wrecked train, watching rescuers at work. «The train driver was the same who was the first one to drive the new electric train, in July 1st last year,» said he. «The train driver said, after the accident: before the crossing, there are the signs, warnings, large ads saying a train might come; people need to realise that railways are dangerous,» said the CEO, relating the message by train driver.

Railway accidents

At Raasiku crossing, in Harju County, severe accidents have happened before:

•    On August 23rd, 2013 – a lady driving a Nissan Micra drove unto the path of a Tallinn-Tartu train and perished on the spot;

•    On May 1st, 1995 – an Opel Kadett drove to the path of a freight train, then pushed by the train for 350 metres. The young man driving if was taken to hospital by ambulance, severely injured.

Railway accidents with casualties:

•    in 2013, 4 people perished (3 pedestrians, 1 in collision at crossing),

•    in 2012, 7 perished (all pedestrians),

•    in 2011, 9 perished (all pedestrians),

•    in 2010, 11 perished (9 pedestrians, 2 in collisions at crossing),

•    in 2009, 10 perished (5 pedestrians, 3 in collisions at crossing, 2 while working on railway).

Source: Technical Surveillance Authority