A German train dispatcher was playing a game on his cellphone shortly before he misdirected two trains, causing a head-on collision that killed 11 people, according to prosecutors.
The dispatcher may face charges of negligent homicide, according to Reuters and The Associated Press — though he insists he was not distracted by the game.
The February crash involved two trains, both traveling at speeds as high as 62 miles per hour, hurtling directly toward each other. They met at a curved section of track in a wooded area, as Bill reported at the time, and the drivers might not have been able to see each other.
The crash happened near the town of Bad Aibling, Bavaria, in southern Germany, shortly before 7 a.m. local time.
Scores of people were injured and 11 died. It’s been called one of Germany’s worst-ever train accidents.
Last month, a German official announced that mistakes by a signal operator were responsible for the crash: Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told Bild magazine it was “a particularly tragic chain of two mistakes,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports.
First, Herrmann said, the dispatcher mistakenly gave two trains traveling in opposite directions the go-ahead to travel down the single track.
Then, realizing his mistake, the signal controller attempted to warn the trains about the error. But he pressed the wrong button, alerting another dispatcher instead. By the time he realized that mistake, it was too late.
If the drivers had been warned, it might have turned out differently, DPA reports: “Both trains, including their brake systems, were in full working order on the day of the crash.”
Now, the dispatcher who made those errors has been arrested, and prosecutors say he appears to have been criminally negligent.
He had turned on his cellphone during his shift — in violation of the rules governing rail dispatchers — and actively played a game on the phone “for an extended period of time,” as prosecutors put it, until shortly before the accident, the AP reports.
The dispatcher confessed to playing the game but said he was not distracted by it, prosecutors say.
But, the AP notes, authorities came to a different conclusion. “Due to the close timing it must be assumed that the accused was distracted from controlling the cross-traffic of the trains,” prosecutors said in a statement.