The Rovniebera Accident of 1933

On 13th January 1933, a late morning local train from Kropčahne to Bevice, hauled by the newly-overhauled class 444B 4-8-0 no. 444B-027 on a running-in turn, and consisting of six pre-WW1 wooden-bodied compartment coaches, was standing in Rovniebera Station when it was struck from behind by a goods train which was overrunning signals in thick fog. The weight of the goods wagons, which were loaded mainly with pig iron and farm produce, pushed the class 523A 0-10-0 goods engine no. 523A-011 with considerable force into the end of the last coach, crushing it and forcing its underframe clear through the body of the coach in front. There was also some severe telescoping of the vehicles more to the front of the train. The casualty list was 12 dead and 33 injured, some seriously.

The Transport Ministry report identified the primary causes of the accident as a lack of attention on the part of the crew of the goods locomotive and excessive speed in view of the prevailing foggy weather. Visibility was in places as poor as 50 metres, hardly adequate to stop a 600-ton train travelling at (as was estimated) 70 km/h. The driver and fireman claimed to have mistaken their whereabouts, believing themselves still to be at least 5 km from Rovniebera and thus not yet seeing any need to look out for the distant signal or to reduce speed.

One additional circumstance of the accident was the fact that the goods train left Kropčahne three quarters of an hour late, thus having to follow the local train instead of preceding it (usually as far Tereçko, the next station to the south). This sort of thing seems to have happened about two or three times a month. Since the men were on the last journey of their shift, the late departure may have induced them to hurry the train along, without taking sufficient account of the fact that there was a stopping passenger train in front of them. (In fact, the motive power manager at Kropčahne stated that the consequences of the late running of this freight service were well known on the shed and a cause of much caustic comment among enginemen close to the end of their shift, and that for this reason he saw no need to post any specific information about the local train.)

A point made in the footplatemen's defence was that the usual type of locomotive for this run was one of the last surviving class 442A 2-8-0s, which had somewhat smaller driving wheels. Thus the impression may be gained, when unable to see the lineside passing by and having only the sound of the exhaust by which to judge the speed, that a larger-wheeled locomotive like a 523A was running more slowly or alternatively that the distance already covered was less than was really the case. This was however no excuse, according to the report, since the crew knew they had a different type of locomotive and could certainly have determined their whereabouts with more accuracy from signal boxes, stations etc.

The class 523A locomotives, dating from 1911, had not been fitted with speedometers when built, and were only receiving them from 1931 onwards as they passed through the works. No. 523A-011 had last been overhauled in late 1929 and thus did not have a speedometer at the time of the accident.