Text and Photos Michel Azéma

Kaprun Tragedy (Austria)

The news  
The events
The carriage
The news
Funiculars in tunnel
Gletscherbahn Kaprun 2  

Official conclusion
September 6th, 2001
On September the 6th 2001 was annonced the official result of the investigations on the accident of Kaprun. The experts believe that the fire was initiated by an electric heating ventilator. It was illegally installed in the drivers cabin and only worked in the stations. On the day of the accident the ventilator didn’t work any more, and the apparatus overheated. This must have happened already in the lower station, because only there the heater is supplied with energy. Because of a leak in a tube hydraulic oil came on the glowing heater, nearby wooden panels and isolation materials were already soaked with oil. In the station or on the way up they caught fire.

In my interview on BBC News Sunday 12th November 2000 I already spoke about the possibility of a problem on the heaters...

No conclusion before the next summer
April 2001
The official conclusion will not be published before the next summer.
However brake or bearing defects are now excluded.
The fire was most likely to the installation of a wooden cladding near the ventilator of the heating engine. This cladding might have caught fire.....It is said, that this cladding wasn´t criticized during the yearly technical examinations.
The examinations of the Kaprun wreck are nearly ready. They found out, that the train was stopped automatically minutes before the fire due to a oil-leakage. All doors were opened. Most of the 152 victims could leave the train but the fire blocked the way down.
Most people died within 70m reach of the train. One Japanese could
escape 150m before he died.

The second cabin extracted
Mach 2001
The second cabin, black as soot, was extrated from the tunnel.

Photo ap

The wreck transported to Linz
March 1st 2001
In the afternoon the burnt carriage was divided in two parts and transported to Linz.
The second carriage, still inside the upper part of the tunnel, will be extracted from the top (Alpine Center) next week.

Photo ap

The wreck winched down
February 28th 2001
Kaprun 4:40 pm
The burnt carriage has been winched down to the bottom station. The wreck was covered by a white tarpaulin as a shroud. It has been already examined in inclined position at the station. Then the carriage has been divided in two parts and put on flat truck. The wreck will be transported to Linz to be stored in the hall which has been reserved for the analyse.

A hall for the wreck
February 7th 2001
The wreck will be transported to Linz (Oberösterreich) and stored in an hall of VÖEST-Schwertrans to be analysed. All the analyse will be filmed.

ÖBB should start its job
January 29th 2001
On January 29th 2001 ÖBB, the Austrian Railways, should start to fetch the cabin down from the tunnel. This work should take around 3 or 4 weeks.

ÖBB will fetch the wreck
December 29th 2000
The ÖBB, the Austrian Railways, got the order by the court to save the wreck of the destroyed cabin. This will cost about 6-7 million ATS and will need about 2-3 weeks. To save all possible circumstantial evidences the cabin and a part of the track must be brought down as a whole. This means an enourmous expenditure because of the weight (16 tons) and the narrow tunnel. Until the start of the work the tunnel will be controlled electronically. During the work there will be a video control. The rails must be cut before and after the wreck.
The cause of accident could be determined then in March 2001.

Reopening of the ski lifts
December 7th 2000
Since December 7th, the cable cars and ski lifts at the Kitzsteinhorn are operating again.
Of course the funicular Gletscherbahn Kaprun 2 is still out of order.

What is the status of the investigation?
November 27th 2000
The origin of the fire is still unknown.
The liquid found on the track is not the cause of the fire.
The main hypothesis is still a short-circuit in the dashboard of the bottom control compartment of the carriage.
The carriage was made of glass fibre-reinforced of plastic with aluminium arches between the compartments (see the photo of the burnt carriage). The windows was made of plexiglass (like in the 1993's carriages).
The carriage must be take down to the bottom station to understand the origin of the fire but it seems that the wheels of the carriage are welded to the rails!

Interview of Manfred Müller (technical director of the "Kapruner Gletscherbahn") in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten
November 14th 2000
What happened in the Kaprun tunnel?
There were the words of the engineer: "We have a switch-off" This meant the break in electricity supply. He told it via train-phone to the engineer in the top-station who died by a smoke-intoxication afterwards.
How do you know this? Are the phone calls recorded?
No, a worker heard the call and told it immediatly the operating-director. The director wanted to reverse the train (out of the tunnel). But at this time the doors obviously have been already opened and most of the passengers outside the cabin. They would have been endangered by the downhill running train.
How can start a fire in the train theoretically?
We don't know. I canīt imagine, that it was the fault of the electric installation. In the train we have only 24 Volt wiring, which are in very safe condition (?). In the rear part of the train, where the fire started, only a part of the signalling equipment was installed.
How the fire caused the switch-off?
We donīt know that too. The survivours told, that for a while the light still was on after the train stopped.
Waiting persons in the bottom station report a big bang.
Yes, a cable loosened, because it became too hot. But the 5cm thick pulling-cable is still in stable condition, although it was totally smothered.
Why was not there any fire extinguishers?
There are extinguishers in both engineerīs room in the bottom and in the top stations. (not in the cabins of the funicular !?)
Why not in the train and in the tunnel?
Thatīs no "must" by legislation an it was therefore not planned.
The events
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Funiculars in tunnel
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Michel Azéma, Paris (France)
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