Tram 66 continues driverless through Bonn: SWB decided against switching power off

Tram 66 continues driverless through Bonn : SWB decided against switching power off

After a tram of line 66 had passed eight stations on Sunday morning with an unconscious driver, the public prosecutor's office is now investigating. The driver suffered a medical emergency behind the wheel. Passengers were able to stop the train through courageous intervention. One of the passengers has now filed a complaint.

After a tram of line 66 had passed eight stations on Sunday morning with an unconscious driver, the public prosecutor's office is now investigating. The 47-year-old driver had suffered a medical emergency behind the wheel. Passengers were able to stop the train through courageous intervention. One of the passengers has now filed a complaint.

It’s an absolute horror for passengers: A tram runs driverless through the night and the passengers cannot stop the ghost ride because the emergency brakes do not work either. This happened to several passengers of the SWB-Line 66 during the night to Sunday. The train had passed eight stops with an unconscious driver after he had suffered a medical emergency. Just 200 meters before the stop Adelheidisstraße in Beuel the train came to a halt thanks to the courageous efforts of two passengers. Almost miraculously nobody was injured during the ghost ride.

According to police spokesman Robert Scholten, two men aged 26 and 29, who were in the first car with the driver's cab with another eight passengers, broke the locked door to the driver's cab by force and were able to stop the train under the telephone guidance of the SWB control center. The two men injured their hands slightly during the „break-in“.

More passengers were sitting in the rear car, how many, Scholten could not say. "Some left immediately after the train had stopped." Scholten could not confirm information according to which the two men had smashed the door pane with a fire extinguisher. "We are still in the middle of the investigation", he said on Sunday afternoon at a hastily convened press conference at the SWB's central control centre on Thomas-Mann-Strasse, which was attended by the spokesman for the municipal utility Jürgen Winterwerp, Anja Wenmakers, managing director of SWB Bus und Bahn, and Jörn Zauner, SWB's operations manager for railways. The city tram has now been confiscated by the police, and the public prosecutor's office will investigate whether all the technical aids also worked properly, Scholten said.

The 47-year-old driver was treated on site by the alerted rescue services and was taken to a hospital in an ambulance for further treatment. According to Wenmakers, he is now feeling better again. The two men who had broken the door down did not require medical treatment.

Driver lost consciousness

At around 0.40 am, the police operations control centre had received several emergency calls from the train. According to Scholten, line 66, which was travelling from Siegburg station in the direction of Bonn, had just passed the Sankt Augustin-Zentrum stop without stopping. According to police and public authorities so far, the driver must have lost consciousness after the Sankt Augustin-Mülldorf stop, police spokesman Scholten explained.

He also reported that the passengers first tried to stop the train using the emergency brake levers installed in the cars. But the emergency brakes are designed in such a way that a train cannot simply come to a halt on an open track or in a tunnel when a passenger operates the lever - for safety reasons in case the train has to be evacuated, explained Jörn Zauner, SWB's Railway Operations Manager. That's why the emergency brake is applied via the driver: when the emergency brake is pulled, the driver receives a signal. He can then consult with the passengers and stop the train if necessary. However, this was no longer possible here due to the driver's state of health.

The SWB thus withdrew their first statement that the emergency brake could not be activated during the journey due to the risk of misuse. "The emergency brake only works in the area of the stops during slow travel, for example if someone falls onto the tracks," Veronika John from the SWB press office had announced as recently as Sunday morning. However, there are no other emergency mechanisms for such situations. "It is rather unusual for one of our drivers to lose consciousness," she had also said.

In the afternoon the SWB also had to correct some information from the morning. Among other things, it was initially said that the SWB control center, which only learned of the problems on Line 66 from the police, had had no way of stopping the driverless train from the control center from a distance. "Of course we can stop the trains by switching off the power," Zauner said. When asked why the control centre had not made use of this option, Zauner and Wenmakers emphasised that in the end the decision was also about the driver and that it had been decided to break the door down. That was the quicker solution, they said.

Another statement was withdrawn on Sunday afternoon: Contrary to what was stated, not all the gates were closed when the driverless train rolled towards Beuel, Zauner said. This mainly concerned barriers near stops. Why the SWB control center could not be made aware of the problems on line 66 via the so-called „dead man's signal“ still needs to be investigated in detail. At the moment it is assumed that the circuit did not work due to the body weight or the position of the unconscious driver.

Praise for the passengers

Operations manager Zauner ruled out, however, that the tram would have made it over the Kennedy Bridge. After initial checks, some passengers had also activated the emergency locking of the doors. This automatically slows a train down. This would have meant that the train would no longer have had enough speed to cross the Kennedy Bridge. "It would have come to a standstill there in any case," Zauner is convinced, although this also remains to be confirmed. It is unclear, however, how fast the city train was travelling. Zauner assumes a speed of 40 to 70 kilometers per hour. The trains can not go faster than 80 km/h anyway.

Police spokesman Scholten praised the passengers, who had behaved calmly despite these circumstances - "although of course they were really scared". From the first emergency call to the time when the train had stopped and the passengers had already left, ten minutes had passed, Scholten said. Wenmakers, who had only been informed of the incident in the course of the morning, also praised the behaviour of the passengers, saying that the public utility company would still like to express its gratitude to everyone. Mayor Ashok Sridharan said, he was also shocked: "Something like this should not happen at all," he told the GA. He also praised the passengers on the „Horror Line“: "In a dangerous situation, they did exactly the right thing and possibly saved lives. I would like to invite them to the Old Town Hall to thank them personally.“ He wishes the driver a speedy recovery. "I expect SWB Bus and Rail to provide a thorough investigation of the incident," Sridharan said. According to Wenmakers, the 47-year-old driver had only been working for SWB Bus and Trains since this autumn.

Passengers were scared to death

The train that he steered at night has been in service with SWB since the mid-1970s. According to operations manager Zauner, however, it has been completely overhauled in recent years as part of SWB Bus und Bahn's secondary use project and subsequently approved by the technical supervisory authority.

In the evening, the Sankt Augustin man Manfred Daas reported to the General-Anzeiger. He and his wife had been on the „ghost train“ and had been sitting in the rear car with about 20 people. "We were scared to death, there was nothing we could do", the 61-year-old reported. In his opinion, the train was much faster than at 80 km/h. "We were terrified that the train would derail." When the train finally stopped, he had activated the emergency release of the door. When he got off the train, he suffered an injury to his knee. "I went to the emergency room in the morning and then filed a complaint with the police against the SWB."

Original text: Michael Wrobel and Lisa Inhoffen

Translation: Mareike Graepel