HARMELEN – Two trains collided at Harmelen this morning. The death toll is now around 90, But there is a fear that this number will continue to rise. Dozens of injured people are still in the hospitals of Woerden, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Amersfoort. This morning's accident will go down in the books as the biggest train disaster in Dutch history.

The accident happened at the junction of two railway lines. Train 164 from Leeuwarden had left Utrecht for Rotterdam with an 11-minute delay. Train came from the other side 464 Rotterdam, who drove to Amsterdam via Gouda. The tracks of the two trains crossed at Harmelen.

Om 09:19 the train from Rotterdam took the switch to the left. It then drilled into the flank of the other train from the right. According to initial estimates, the two trains were traveling in opposite directions at around 100 km/h.

Klap

According to people in the area there was a huge blow. “I heard the crash and at first thought that a plane had crashed”, described an NS employee, who was stationed a few hundred meters away against the Algemeen Dagblad.

“After the blow it was very quiet. In the fog I couldn't see that it had happened near here and that it was a train accident. Visibility was not even fifty meters.”

(NS EMPLOYEE, GENERAL NEWSPAPER 09-01-1962)

A short time later, the first injured people reported to the post of the NS employee. It involved a woman with a broken wrist and a man with a head injury. He forwarded them to a pub, twenty meters away.

Farmers from surrounding farms had also come to the rescue in the meantime. They caught the people who had climbed out of the train. Some victims ran or stumbled into the meadows in panic. Others were completely in shock and, for example, were looking for a bag they had left on the train.

There was a lot of havoc on the track itself. The locomotive from Utrecht had torn the side of the first carriage of the Rotterdam train to shreds and then had drilled through the second carriage.. Some train parts were upside down and almost unrecognizable next to the track.

Rescue

Shortly afterwards, the rescue operation started. From Rotterdam alone there were 45 ambulances sent to Harmelen. A call was made to nearby companies to supply as many cutting torches as possible, which was also obeyed. The NS sent two hundred employees itself.

“Roman Catholic clergy passed the crushed carriages and administered the last holy rites to the dying. Soldiers, on their way to their camp after the weekend, who could not continue in Woerden, were used in the rescue work. Uniformed boys of barely nineteen years of age were ordered to carry the heaviest loads.”

(AD, 09-01-1962)

During the afternoon, the sound of the dozens of cutting torches was the most striking sound heard at the crash site. The AD describes the situation of a victim who was trapped with his legs in the disaster train. He quietly smoked a cigarette. “I'll be fine, he told the newspaper. “Help the others first. They need it more.”

Continuous flow

Kilometers away in Utrecht terrible scenes took place. Because the victims were spread over several hospitals, it was often completely unclear to family members where their loved ones were and what their condition was.

At the Anthony Clinic, the Deaconessenheid and the Academic Hospital more and more family members reported, who were looking for their loved ones. People who were lucky, came their wounded man, female, son or daughter against. People who were less fortunate had to go to the military hospital Oog in Al, where most of the dead were laid out.

An hour and a half after the disaster, the first ambulances arrived with the victims who had not survived the disaster. Over time, buses were even used to bring the bodies.

The first bodies were taken to the morgue at the hospital grounds. That soon turned out to be much too small and the bodies were housed in a garage on the site. There, men dressed in white tried to identify all the victims.

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Kerk

Later, bodies in coffins were transferred to a neighboring church in Harmelen. Long rows of boxes were waiting there during the day. Dozens of officers were ready at the entrance to receive relatives.

In the meantime, cars with relatives drove off and on at the small church of the hitherto unknown Harmelen. People of the Red Cross supported the relatives as they walk the way through the church along the endless row of coffins. The necessary forms had to be completed, before people walk out again.

Oorzaak

Not much is known about the cause. There was a thick fog. The railway accident council will investigate whether there was a malfunction in the signaling system around the switch and whether there are other technical malfunctions.

Several conductors have stated to De Telegraaf that the trains would not have braked. Passengers of the train from Leeuwarden have said that they braked just before the crash.

Replies

During the day, Prime Minister De Quay also reported to the disaster site. “After an event like this, there is silence”, he told the Telegraaf. He went on to say that he was deeply concerned for the families of the victims.

The NS had also previously expressed its condolences to the relatives. The company has already admitted full responsibility for the disaster.

The Royal family also said they were deeply shocked from the winter sports address in Lech, Austria.


Hoe ging het verder?

The train disaster in Harmelen will eventually go down in the history books as the largest in Dutch history. Get there 93 killing people and getting there 52 people injured.

The accident is declared a national disaster and a day of national mourning is announced a few days later.

The Railway Accident Council launched a major investigation into the accident. The driver of the train from Utrecht had overlooked a yellow signal. When he passed a red signal a little further on, was it too late. The train from Utrecht had started braking, after seeing the red signal, but the speed was too high then (125 kilometer per uur) to come to a stop before the switch.

The accident was the reason for the introduction of automatic train control (ATB) accelerated entry. Signals got special yellow beacons, to be more visible.

The switch at Harmelen no longer exists. There is now a flyover. In 2012 a monument with the names of the victims was unveiled.

Sources:

The People's Side – 09-01-1962 – train collision: official 88 doden

Algemeen Dagblad – 09-01-1962 – National railway disaster claims 90 lives

The truth – 09-01-1962 – Biggest train disaster in history

Het Vrije Volk – 09-01-1962 – Death toll up to 90 increased

The Telegraph – 09-01-1962 – Death toll estimated at 93 second largest train disaster in the Netherlands

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