Coaches crash into hotel at Helsinki’s Central Railway Station
Services badly disrupted owing to accident
Four runaway coaches of a long-distance train overran the buffers and crashed into the office wing of the Holiday Inn Hotel at Helsinki’s Central Railway Station at around 8.30 on Monday morning.
Reportedly, nobody was seriously hurt in the incident, as the employees of the accounting firm Ernst & Young located in the office wing narrowly escaped the crash.
The scope of the damage to the hotel building is not known yet, but material damage is estimated to amount to millions of euros.
The building has been evacuated and at the moment it is being examined. Hotel guests have been allowed to return to their rooms, but the office wing has been closed.
The lead carriage that ploughed into the structure after smashing through the end of the platform cannot immediately be extricated, as it is unclear as yet whether the structural damage to the building is so great as to cause a collapse.
On impact, the hotel's sprinkler system went off and water also flowed into the pedestrian tunnel underneath the railway tracks. A shop in the tunnel was forced to close.
The four coaches had escaped from an empty Intercity train that was scheduled to leave for the eastern city of Kajaani at 8.12 a.m.
Shortly before the accident, the eight-coach train was being transferred from the depot to the Central Railway Station, when a problem with the brakes was noticed and the train was stopped at Linnunlaulu, between the Pasila and Helsinki stations.
For some unknown reason, the train then split into two parts. Four coaches came loose, continuing their trip on the gentle downslope towards Helsinki Station without the engine and under their own momentum.
”When the carriages broke loose, the brakes on individual coaches should have come on automatically. For some reason, this did not happen”, reports Ari Vanhanen, the head of long-distance services at the Finnish State Railways VR.
The incident was noticed immediately, and staff were instantly alert to the consequences of the runaway carriages trundling under their own steam and without brakes towards the station.
The coaches were quickly routed onto a track containing no other rolling stock, in order to minimise the possible damage on impact, and an announcement was made through loudspeakers at the railway station, ordering people to move away from the place on Platform 13 where the rails end in front of the hotel building.
Only moments before the impact, the passengers in another commuter train waiting for departure on the adjacent track had also been told to get out and run away from the platforms as fast as they could.
According to an eyewitness, the accident caused panic for a while when people were running away from the platforms. Some feared that it was a bomb attack.
Moreover, the sound caused by the collision was heard widely in the neighbourhood of the station, scaring people.
However, it appears that the quick action of moving the carriages to an "empty" track and providing advance warning to passengers waiting in the station prevented the possibility of much greater carnage in the station itself.
Three members of VR's train staff - a conductor and two restaurant car employees - were on board the coaches at the time. They made their way to the carriage furthest from the anticipated point of impact and lay on the floor. A second conductor had jumped down from the train to inspect the problem moments before the carriages broke loose.
Train traffic at Helsinki’s Central Railway Station came to a complete standstill for more than an hour. The overhead wires of trains had been damaged when the empty coaches collided with the platform, and trains were waiting on all tracks, reported Communications Manager Leena Linnamäki from VR.
Train timetables could be affected at least until mid-day, but VR says that the situation is expected to improve by the evening.
Traffic on the main railway line north is supposed to continue in the afternoon, but some delays in train services can be expected. However, the greatest disruption will be experienced on the coastal line between Helsinki and Turku - commuter trains on this line leave from the platforms in the immediate vicinity of the accident.
In the early afternoon VR announced that five of the 19 tracks leading in to Helsinki's Central Railway Station are currently out of action, and warned passengers that delays could be expected even on Tuesday morning.
The Accident Investigation Board has launched an inquiry into the incident.
In 1990, a similar accident occurred, when a goods train slammed into the wall of Helsinki’s Central Railway Station, when the brakes failed.
One double-decker InterCity carriage weighs roughly 70 tonnes.
The speed of the runaway coaches at the time of impact with the hotel wall was thought to be approximately 20-30km/hour.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Serious water damage could close Helsinki´s busiest Metro station for months (9.11.2009)
Information on commuter train delays
Accident Investigation Board
Finnish Railways, VR