The Kolmino Accident of 1866

Although the 2-4-0s of class A1 had already suffered a number of mishaps due to breakage of the main frames while in motion, the RSR still persisted in using these engines for express passenger work. On September 3rd 1866, however, came the last straw.

Class A1 no. 170, crewed by Driver Marek Vohlenak and Fireman Ranulf Žankunu of Parvašč shed, was accelerating smartly away from Bevice Semesa with a ten-coach express from Tupfdu Rulauriku to Parvašč and had just passed through Kolmino station at about 60 km/h, when the main frame on the left side broke behind the leading driving axlebox. The sudden loss of restraint on the spacing of the axles, compounded by the leverage of the coupling rod on the crankpins, caused the locomotive to buck very sharply, lifting first the leading driving wheels and then the carrying wheels from the rails. The locomotive slewed to the left, broke through the parapet of the bridge over which it was just passing and fell to the street below, followed by its tender and all but the last two carriages. In the tangled pile of wreckage that resulted, 23 passengers and Fireman Žankunu were killed and over 70 persons injured. Driver Vohlenak was fortunately able to jump off the engine in time and escaped with nothing worse than a sprained ankle.

At the public enquiry that was held in Bevice City Court on November 30th, the prime cause of the accident was quickly identified as the broken main frame of no. 170. Driver Vohlenak said in evidence that he distinctly heard a loud bang as the main frame broke and it was then only a matter of seconds before the engine plunged from the bridge. The inspecting officer, Dariman Gravelto, severely criticised both the RSR as a company and its chief engineer, Marek Luršimonš, in person for allowing such an unsafe type of locomotive to remain in traffic. In defence Luršimonš said that the engine had been overhauled just three weeks previously and the main frames examined especially closely. However, with the unsophisticated testing methods available in those days it was easy for a potentially fatal flaw in the metal to escape notice.

Following the accident, the A1s were relegated to local goods work, for which they were totally unsuitable, on account of their large driving wheels, and the whole class went to the scrap heap within a year. The RSR was required to pay considerable compensation to the injured and the families of those killed.