CZ/SK verze

Czech Republic’s Worst Railway Tragedy: 120 Lives Lost in a Fiery Collision

Czech Republic’s Worst Railway Tragedy: 120 Lives Lost in a Fiery Collision
photo: Martin Kolovratník / ANO/Czech Republic’s Worst Railway Tragedy
23 / 11 / 2023

More than sixty years ago, the most tragic railway accident in Czech history occurred when two passenger trains collided on the line between Hradec Králové and Pardubice.

The catastrophe happened on the evening of November 14, 1960, near the Stéblová station. Poor visibility due to fog and darkness contributed to the head-on collision between a steam locomotive-driven passenger train 608 and a passenger motor train 653. The impact caused a fire to erupt, fueled by spilt hot coal and leaking diesel. The tragic event resulted in 118 fatalities and over 110 serious injuries.

The driver of passenger train 608 was held primarily responsible. It is believed that he departed from Stéblová station prematurely, not waiting for the dispatcher’s instructions, as mentioned on the ČD website. Despite efforts, neither train could be stopped in time, resulting in the collision less than two kilometres from the station. The reasons why the steam locomotive-led train departed earlier than scheduled remain unclear.

 České dráhy / Public domain

An investigation was launched immediately after the completion of rescue operations. One significant mystery surrounded the incident: the conductor of train 608 claimed to have seen a green light in the dense fog, interpreting it as a signal from the train dispatcher. This was impossible, as the dispatcher was not on the platform at that moment. Surprisingly, the conductor was not the only one who witnessed the green flash; two passengers corroborated his account. The source of this misleading light signal remains unsolved even after more than fifty years.

Member of Parliament Martin Kolovratník recently brought attention to the anniversary of this tragic event on social media. “I hope we never witness such a catastrophe in our transport system again,” he stated. Discussing such incidents is crucial, especially considering that detailed media reporting was restricted at the time to preserve the image of the socialist regime.