Austria · Disasters

Railway car ignites, kills 155

November 11, 2000
Kaprun, Austria
A railway car carrying skiers through a tunnel catches fire, killing 155

The fire was caused by an electric heater in an unattended conductor’s cabin at the back of the train, which melted plastic pipes and ignited hydraulic brake fluid. The passengers were unable to immediately access fire extinguishers or call an attendant, and the shatter-resistant acrylic windows made escape nearly impossible. Eventually, a window was broken and eleven passengers were able to escape out the rear of the train. One survivor told doctors he was able to break the window with a hammer to throw his daughter to safety before he and others spilled from the opening.

Once the conductor realized the train was on fire, he released the door locks to allow them to be opened manually. Passengers who had not lost consciousness from the smoke and toxic air from burning plastic fled further into the tunnel, away from the fire. A stack effect was created, however, and smoke from the fire was pulled further into the tunnel, killing the conductor and passengers. A second train coming the opposite direction was also affected by the smoke, and the two occupants — a solitary passenger and a conductor — were killed.

The smoke continued up and out of the top of the tunnel. While most were able to evacuate the area in time to avoid death from asphyxiation, four were trapped in the Alpine Centre. Firefighters were able to rescue one but the other three died of smoke inhalation.

Twelve people aboard the train survived the disaster, all of whom moved towards the rear of the train and out of the tunnel. Thirty-seven of the 155 killed were under 20 years old.

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