44 years ago this week saw a notable railway accident in western Hungary. Fortunately, there were no fatalities – although the loco, one of a small fleet of only six – was written off.
In a previous article (this one), I touched on how MÁV – Magyar Államvasutak, the Hungarian state railway – standardised on Russian M62-type “Szergej” diesel-electric locos in their bid to modernise in the 1960s and 1970s.
MÁV were supplied with 288 such locos between 1965 and 1978 – 273 of standard gauge, plus a further 15 broad (1524mm) gauge machines for use on the broad gauge tracks around the border with the Soviet Union (now Ukraine).
The Győr-Sopron-Ebenfurti Vasút (GySEV), a curiously independent Austrian-Hungarian joint venture operating largely in the border areas on the opposite side of the map, also ordered six M62s of their own. Numbered M62 901 to M62 906, they all entered traffic in May 1972, largely on express passenger work, and largely fairly anonymously.
At 06:07 on Thursday 15th November 1973, that was to change.
Above is a link to a photo of M62 906 after the accident at Fertőboz – from the Hungarian Locomotives Facebook page.
That day, M62 906 was powering train 107, the “Ciklámen Expressz”, the early morning Sopron to Budapest train, which it was booked to work as far as Győr where it would hand over to electric traction.
Running a short while ahead of it was a freight train – train 191 – hauled by a class 424, a 4-8-0 steam loco. Due to a brake defect on one of its wagons, it came to a stand near Fertőboz. Shortly afterwards, the signalman at the previous station of Balffürdő set the road for the “Ciklámen Expressz” to pass through, which it duly did.
A collision was now inevitable. Upon seeing the stationary train ahead of him, the driver of the express made a brake application however, at 06:07, the M62 struck the rear of the freight train at 57km/h (35mph) and derailed.
Fortunately, and most importantly, there were no fatalities – however 23 were injured, three of them seriously so. This included the driver of the M62 – who was trapped in his cab – as well as the railwayman manning the boiler in the steam van marshalled behind the loco (again, in this article we briefly looked at why MÁV were forced to heat their trains in a fairly unconventional manner). The driver of the 424 also suffered slight injuries.
Over 10 million forints of damage were caused. M62 906 was added to the pantheon of locomotives written off very early into their working lives – just 18 months, in this case. It was scrapped in March 1975. To correct the shortfall in its motive power fleet, GySEV in fact received two M62s – M62 143 and M62 093 – from MÁV in July 1976, which became its M62 907 and M62 908 respectively. GySEV’s last M62 was withdrawn from traffic in 1996.
But back to Fertőboz on that fateful day. Heavy rain in the immediate aftermath of the accident hampered both the recovery and the investigation – or investigations, as both GySEV and MÁV conducted inquiries independent of one another. Perhaps predictably, this led to confusion. GySEV attributed the accident not only to the signalman but also to the driver and secondman of the M62; their deliberate re-enactment on Wednesday 19th December 1973 with another M62 concluded that even taking into account the dark and foggy conditions on the day, the stationary freight train would have been visible from a distance of approximately 558 metres, which would have left sufficient time for the train to be brought to a stand. The brake only went in, however, at a distance of 165 metres. Meanwhile MÁV, on the other hand, placed the blame squarely on the signalman.
Those on the footplate of the M62 were acquitted though lack of evidence. The hearing at the District Court of Győr found that the signalman at Balffürdő – identified only as “Ferenc N.” – had misunderstood a phone call as pertaining to the freight train having reached Fertőboz – when in fact it had been from Sopron advising that the express was en route. He recalled that it had been a “senseless noise” and that he had only actually understood the word “received”. In fact, he claimed that he did then doubt himself, and attempted to contact Fertőboz, but could not get through. He then considered stopping the express via hand signal as it passed him, but feared disciplinary action for causing an unnecessary delay should his hunch be proved unfounded. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for his mistake.
This story has no happy ending, as it is understood that “Ferenc N.” committed suicide by drowning.
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in a similar one – also about accidents writing two European locomotives off very early in their career – German electrics 103106 and 101092. Do contact me if there any other European Traction stories you would be interested in reading about.