The fire broke out on the train, which was reportedly travelling from Cologne to Frankfurt, early on Friday morning, beside the town of Dierdorf near Montabauer in Rhineland-Palatinate. Police said the train was halted and emergency crews managed to evacuate all 510 people on board.
Despite dramatic footage which showed flames engulf part of the train, authorities said only five people suffered minor injuries. The incident has triggered delays and disruption along the well-travelled route, as well as for motorists.
The high-speed line will remain closed at least this weekend, a spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn said on Friday. The nearby Autobahn 3 had to be closed temporarily due to smoke.
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According to a spokesman for the federal police, helicopters were also on site “to get an overview of the damage”. The cause of the fire is unclear and an investigation is underway to establish what happened.
The investigation could take several weeks, and will be led by the police and rail investigators. A spokesman for the Office for Railway Accident Investigation said: “We are still at the beginning of our accident investigations.”
Firefighters at the scene. Photo: DPA
According to the police, one person suffered an ankle injury while getting off the train during the rescue mission. Four other travellers had circulatory problems because of the shock. Passengers were taken to a nearby village community centre.
The fire had broken out in a carriage, to the end of the train.
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“The fire could be contained very quickly and is currently under control,” said a spokesperson for the fire brigade. Initially, about 250 firefighters were deployed, as well as 50 emergency medical workers.
A video on Twitter shows huge flames engulfing part of the train. Sascha Frank, 41, who was sitting in the front part of the affected ICE train, told RP Online that there was no chaotic scenes during the fire.
He said: “The railway staff were calm and professional all the time. There was no panic among the passengers at any time”.
District fire inspector Werner Böcking called it “very lucky” that an off-duty police officer was sitting on the train as well as other members of aid organizations, such as a member of an airport fire brigade.
A rescue worker described these passengers' response as “very calm”.
The dramatic scene. Photo: DPA
Federal police spokesman Christian Altenhofen said his colleague on board had noticed the smoke and raised the alarm.
It's still not known when the high-speed route will re-open. Passengers travelling by train between Frankfurt and Cologne will have to expect train cancellations and considerable delays of up to 90 minutes for several days.
The burnt out train is currently being inspected. After that, railway experts will check the damage to tracks, signalling equipment and overhead lines.
Trains are currently being diverted over the old Rhine line, which takes about 80 minutes longer. There will be no stops in Siegburg/Bonn, Montabaur and Limburg Süd.
According to the rail operators Deutsche Bahn, tickets on the Cologne-Rhine/Main train connection will be offered at low prices. The ticket price will be refunded in full to the passengers of the affected ICE 511, reports RP Online.
On the A3, in the direction of Cologne, the road was reopened later in the morning, and two of three lanes towards Frankfurt have also reopened. The scene of the accident is near the border between Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse.