Harmelen Train Disaster

It was shortly before twenty past nine in the morning of Monday January 8, 1962 when a train bound for Amsterdam was snaking through the junction.

Consisting of two electric multiple units it was moving at about 45 mph. The manouvre was protected from oncoming train by a red signal on the approach to the junction from the Utrecht direction.

A Utrecht to Rotterdam express train, headed by an electric locomotive, No. 1137 and travelling at about 60 mph was approaching the junction. Perhaps because of the foggy conditions, the driver missed a yellow light warning that the next signal was at red. It must have been at the last moment that he saw the danger signal. The driver applied the brakes but there was nothing more that he could do. Collision was inevitable.

The Harmelen train disaster was the worst railway accident in the history of The Netherlands. Harmelen, near Woerden, is the location of a railway junction where a branch to Amsterdam leaves the Rotterdam to Utrecht line. It is common at high-speed junctions to avoid the use of diamond crossings wherever possible — instead a ladder crossing is employed where trains destined for the branch line cross over to the track normally employed for trains travelling in the opposite direction for a short distance before taking the branch line.

Shortly before 9.20 a.m. on Monday, 8 January 1962, a foggy day, a Rotterdam to Amsterdam train consisting of electric multiple unit sets 700 and 297 was authorised to carry out this manoeuvre, protected by a red signal to stop trains approaching from Utrecht. The EMU was travelling at approximately 75 km/h (47 mph). Simultaneously, an express train from Utrecht to Rotterdam, hauled by electric locomotive 1131, was approaching at about 100 km/h (62 mph). Perhaps because of the foggy weather, the driver of the train from Utrecht missed the warning yellow signal and applied the emergency brake when he saw the red signal protecting the junction, far too late to prevent a near head-on collision between the two trains. Six coaches of the Amsterdam train and three on the express train were destroyed. Of approximately 500 people aboard the trains, 93 lost their lives, including the drivers of both trains.