17 persons killed

Steam train accident at Drachenfels 60 years ago

In einer Kurve entgleist die Lok, der erste Wagen rast noch gegen einen Baum und wird beim Aufprall völlig zerstört.

The Drachenfels steam locomotive derailed after picking up too much speed.  It crashed into a tree and was completely destroyed.

SIEBENGEBIRGE. On September 14, 1958, a steam train from the Drachenfels railway derailed, resulting in 17 deaths.  112 passengers were hurt in the accident, some of them seriously injured.  A hand-crafted iron statue will commemorate the disaster. 

The disaster was totally unexpected.  On the 14th of September, 1958, it was a Sunday with plenty of sunshine, pleasant temperatures, and ideal weather. Many people were drawn to either the huge Pützchens Markt fair or to Königswinter for a trip up to the Drachenfels. In the early evening there were still so many visitors on the mountain that the operators of the Drachenfels railway decided to add a last-minute trip down the valley with the steam locomotive.

At 6:30 pm, the locomotive and three train cars left the station in the valley, and at 6:45 pm, around 160 passengers climbed aboard the train cars at the mountain station. Three minutes after they departed, the unthinkable happened. The locomotive derailed along with the first car, overturning. 17 people were killed, 112 passengers suffered injuries, some of them very serious.

"Until then, there had been no accident of this magnitude in Germany after the Second World War," says Klaus Hacker, managing director of Bergbahnen in Siebengebirge AG. "The situation at the scene of the accident was confusing, chaotic. One must not forget: A rescue operation as it exists today, did not exist then. "

Locomotive picked up too much speed

Just moments after leaving the station, the train had suddenly picked up too much speed and at the steepest part of the route, it had clearly been exceeding the maximum speed of ten kilometers per hour.  A later estimate had the train traveling at 50 kilometers per hour.  The high speed was a consequence of the sinking boiler pressure, which had decreased the braking power.  

Due to the force of the sudden braking, the locomotive derailed at around 6:50pm while taking a slight curve. The first car crashed against a tree and was completely destroyed in the impact. In the second car, the conductor managed to slow it down with the handbrake, but still crashed into the wreckage of the first car with considerable force. Only in the last train car was the conductor able to slow down in time.

Flags flew at half-mast

“The first train car had the most dead and injured,” says Hacker.  The worker who stoked the fire on the locomotive suffered fatal injuries after jumping from the train in panic.  Passengers also jumped out of the train, injured and in shock, some of them wandering through the forest for hours. One of the conductors ran back to the mountain station to call for help and alert the rescue services. A "strange noise" had alerted Anton Schmitt, innkeeper of the Burghof. He was one of the first persons to arrive at the scene of the accident.

"Within a short time, many people from the Altstadt and walkers who were still on the Drachenfels, were at the location," says Hacker. "Many people put the injured in their private cars to take them to hospitals as quickly as possible." Others came with stretchers, while still others carry the injured on their backs down to the valley. Police, the German Red Cross, the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief, the fire department; emergency services came from all over to rescue the injured, recover the dead and to secure the scene of the accident. In Königswinter the sirens were howling, restaurants turned off the music, and the morning after -  flags were flying in the city at half mast.

It took several days to identify the dead.  Hacker explains that the fewest of victims had been carrying identification on their bodies.  The victims included visitors from Belgium, Berlin, Essen, Siegburg and Lohmar.  The oldest was 74 and the youngest was only two years.  After the tragic accident, the railway closed down its operations.  Only in 1960 did it start up again, but without the steam locomotive.  Only the electric trams were put into use. 

Orig. text: Heike Hamann

Translation: ck