The train derailing in Wetteren was apparently caused by non-compliance with a 40km/h speed limit and three others issues. According to the final report by the Accident Investigation Body for Rail Transport, the mistakes made by the driver reveal the inability of the rail network to provide safe train travel.
On May 4th, 2013, 7 of the 18 carriages of a train derailed at Wetteren at 1:58am. Three of the cars carriages suffered cracks, resulting in the release of acrylonitrile. One person died and 2,000 people had to be evacuated.
The 247-page-long document establishes that “according to the technical report, carried out by various independent experts, nothing shows the track, the signs or the rolling stock was responsible for this derailment.”
The direct cause of the derailment of the first 3 carriages is actually a combination of 4 factors. First of all, the train was travelling at 84km/h in a zone recommending 40km/h. Two turnouts located on an S-shaped bend, as well as the high centre of gravity of the carriages which were heavily (but legally) loaded, and the emergency brake, were also partly responsible.
The investigation also showed the ‘Menor’ safety system malfunctioned as the accident proves that “a train driver can acknowledge a signal ‘automatically’ without requiring any further action,” and this “blocks the automatic emergency braking system.”
Several safety mechanisms are in place to prevent accidents, but they are ineffective when the train driver fails to read or properly see the warning from an alert signal. More recent instruments such as the TBL1+ would not have helped in similar circumstances. Only an ETCS control system would have stopped the train in time.