A Near Miss at Kropčahne in 2003

The goods depot at Kropčahne is noticeable in the early hours of workday mornings for intensive but uneventful working. On Wednesday 7th May 2003, however,  an incident that occurred 70 kilometres away gave rise to looks of horror and appeals to the Almighty.

At Alčahta, which lies on the main line south of Kropčahne, a particularly rough shunt had caused a bogie tank wagon to become derailed and block the points leading northwards out of the goods yard. By the time the tank wagon was back on the rails and the points inspected, the fast goods train to Magane and Pilzen, which was scheduled to depart at 03:00 am, had missed its slot. Since this train was not heavily loaded on that day, it was decided to attach its wagons to the 04:30 am pickup goods for Magane, which was to set down and pick up at Kropčahne, Dämenov and Bevice-Pofedra on the way. The train, now totalling 74 wagons and hauled by the brand-new 5-cylinder compound 4-12-4 no. 655A.05, left Alčahta punctually and arrived at Kropčahne at 05:15 am. However because of its unusual length it could only be accommodated in the goods yard after a fair amount of time-consuming shunting work. A following train, approaching from Terešan and due to arrive at 05:35 am, could therefore not be accepted immediately and the signalman at Kropčahne South Box, Tubarek, kept his home signal showing red.

Meanwhile the Warsaw-Rome express was scheduled to depart from platform 2 at 05:44 am. As soon as the goods train from Alčahta had been "tidied away", the express was able to leave with very little delay. Just as this train was pulling across to the southbound main line, however, signalman Tubarek saw to his horror that the Terešan goods, hauled by the rebuilt Doherty compound 4-10-4 no. 564BB.010, was pounding up the gradient towards the station, obviously overrunning the red signal. Only by diverting the approaching goods train into platform 1 at the last minute was it possible for Tubarek, showing admirable presence of mind, to avoid a horrendous accident.

Not until the Terešan goods lurched through the crossover leading to platform 1 did the driver realise his mistake and make an emergency brake application. Unfortunately he rather overdid it and left half his train hanging back down the gradient, blocking all following traffic from the south. Only after the stationmaster, having been rapidly appraised of the situation, had marched down the platform and delivered a stentorian lecture on the purposes of railway signalling was it possible to restore some semblance of order. The local press were naturally cock-a-hoop over the incident, which occurred just in time for their early editions. In the event the driver of the Terešan goods train was severely reprimanded and was able to count himself lucky not to be demoted to shunting duty.

(c) Norman Clubb 2011