Four die in Czechia’s most tragic two-train crash in decades

Four people were killed and over 20 injured in a head-on collision between two trains in a station in Pardubice on Wednesday night. Investigators say the accident occurred when one of the trains failed to respect a stop signal.

Shortly before 11 pm on Wednesday an express train crashed into a cargo train at the newly built station Pardubice-Centre in the East Bohemian city.

There were over 300 people on board the Slovakia-bound express, operated by the company Regiojet, and four were killed.

Photo: HZS Pardubického kraje

This was the highest number of fatalities in a collision between two trains in Czechia in almost three decades.

Two of the four dead were women from Ukraine, while the others, also women, were from Slovakia.

Around two dozen other people were also hurt, a number of them seriously.

Kateřina Semrádová, a spokeswoman for Pardubice Regional Hospital, outlined what kind of injuries medical staff were dealing with.

“There are five cases of moderately serious injury, while the remainder are minor injuries. The latter include concussion, spinal injuries, bruising and so on.”

While police and fire officers helped shaken passengers disembark from the express train, Interior Minister Vít Rakušan and Transport Minister Martin Kupka were on their way to the scene.

Photo: HZS Pardubického kraje

Mr. Rakušan told reporters in Pardubice that psychologists were on hand to help passengers at the main train station building. There was also a special helpline, he said, urging the public to use it only if they had genuine reason.

“First and foremost I’d like to ask everybody not to misuse this helpline – it is intended only for people who are concerned about the life and health of those close to them.”

The prime minister, Petr Fiala, said on social media that everyone was thinking of the victims and the injured and expressed his condolences to relatives of the former.

Attention soon turned to the causes of the accident, with the police saying on Thursday that they had launched criminal proceedings on suspicion of general endangerment due to negligence.

Soon afterward the national Railways Inspectorate said that the express train had failed to respect a signal prohibiting it from entering the line where the cargo train stood.

Photo: HZS Pardubického kraje

Whether it was a technical fault, human error or a combination of both factors is under investigation, officials said. A probe into how the train ran a red light may take several months.

Meanwhile the owner of rail operator Regiojet, Radim Jančura, said similar failures should be stamped out when a common European signalling system is introduced in Czechia in future.

At around 8 am on Thursday services were resumed on one track in Pardubice following a nine-hour period when the important rail corridor was out of action.

The worst ever collision between trains in the Czech lands occurred in 1960, when 118 people were killed by the village of Stéblová in East Bohemia.

Seven years earlier 103 people died in a similar incident on the line between Brno and Břeclav.