CZ/SK verze

Czechoslovakia: Around 118 people died in the most significant railway accident during the communist regime. Those who lost their limbs received two oranges and cash for damages.

Czechoslovakia: Around 118 people died in the most significant railway accident during the communist regime. Those who lost their limbs received two oranges and cash for damages.
photo: ČD/ Stéblová
08 / 01 / 2022

The event took place on a foggy early evening, on November 14, 1960, in Eastern Bohemia. On the single-track section near Stéblová between Pardubice and Hradec Králové, a passenger train from Hradec regularly pulled by a locomotive towards a set from Pardubice, which consisted of motor cars called Hurvínek, regularly crossed. On a fateful day at 17:22, the motor train number 653 set off a minute later. There were two train drivers, a train driver, and a conductor. At 17:25, passenger train 608 appeared in the opposite direction, apparently a full seven minutes later. In the evening, thick fog permeated, and the visibility reached a length of fewer than 50 meters.

As usual, the train pulled by the locomotive stopped at 17:40 in Stéblová, where it waited for the other locomotive to drive through the station. Archive documents state that the dispatcher waited for the passenger train from Hradec to stop and went to the office to prepare the train path for the oncoming train. However, there was a discrepancy between the crew and the train staff with the steam locomotive. The passenger train driver reportedly saw a flash of green light and sent the train to the driver, who took the steam train without registering the sign "stop" and a red traffic light on the signal through the thick fog. Some bystanders tried to prevent the impending accident, it gets said that the station worker rode his bicycle and wanted to release the brake handles on the last train, which would get released the air from the brake and stop the train - but the attempts were in vain.

Exactly, At 5:43 p.m., there was a bang that could get heard up to two kilometers away. The locomotive pulled about twelve wagons. The engine train in the opposite direction included two motor cars between them with inserted 4 small wagons, while the last motor car kept pushing the train in front of it and pushed the set onto the boiler of the steam locomotive. The fuel tank broke, and the diesel began to leak. The hot ashes from the locomotive probably ignited the leaking diesel, and just like that,  the infamous accident happened. According to witnesses, the fire reached a height of up to five meters, and the vast majority of people who survived the destructive impact, but remained trapped under the rubble, burned alive. The remains were unrecognizable, and many identifications were successful only thanks to survivors who remembered the clothes. By eight o'clock in the evening, most of the wounded got rescued. The accident claimed 118 lives and injured 110 people. Whole families were among the deceased. One of the surviving passengers said that, paradoxically, she got saved by her habit - she survived as a smoker since the smoking car was only at the far end of the set.

Representatives of the Ministry of Transport visited the wounded in the hospital to give them 800 crowns for damages and two oranges. The communist regime tried to conceal the accident and released only a few misleading pieces of information to the media, reporting on the driver's mistake. "The cause of the accident is a gross violation of railway traffic rules. Comrade František Vlasák, Deputy Minister of the Interior, and other comrades arrived at the site of the tragedy. Even the court proceedings took place without the assistance of the media. Even the grieving families could not talk about the tragedy. The government's commission of inquiry identified the crew of the locomotive, ie the driver, his assistant, train driver, and guide, as the culprits. The train driver insisted on seeing a beam of green light and thought it was a driving instructor. His claims got confirmed by some accident survivors. However, it could not be a signal from the narrator - he was in the office at the time. The accusations got also proven by outdated technology and other shortcomings, but the then regime did not like to hear that. In addition, the crew often changed their statements, blamed each other, or said that due to the delay of the train, they assumed a minute at the next station. Most of the crew earned a ban of nine years, the youngest member just a year. The driver got sentenced to four and a half years in prison. The conductor got sentenced to four years, and the train driver to five. The young assistant spent a year and a half in prison.

As the planned communion to honor the monument was banned by the Communists, the first reverential event took place in 2000 on the fortieth anniversary. In Stéblová, a single-track system gets used where trains still cross and wait for each other. There is currently turnout security.

Even after so many years, many questions remain about the cause of the accident over the tragedy that has gone down in history as the most tragic railway event in Czechoslovakia.