R2018-02 Level crossing accident in Kemijärvi on 12 December 2018

A freight train en route from Kemi to Kemijärvi and a waste collection lorry collided at the Kuusivaarantie unprotected level crossing on Wednesday, 12 December 2018 at 4.49 am. In the collision, the driver of the lorry died and one of the two engine drivers in the locomotive was injured. The waste collection lorry was destroyed by the collision. The train's locomotive and first wagon were derailed. The locomotive was heavily damaged in the collision, while the derailed wagon was slightly damaged. The train continued its travel for 312 m after the collision, damaging the track and the electric track devices. Traffic on the track section between Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi was interrupted for five days due to the accident.

Upon approaching the level crossing, the speed of the waste collection lorry was so high that after noticing the train around 50 metres before the level crossing, the driver had no possibility of avoiding collision despite braking and evasive action. A 80 km/h general speed limit was in effect on the accident road. The level crossing was missing the 50 km/h speed limit as required by the guidelines.

The engine driver noticed the lorry around 100 metres before the level crossing and engaged the emergency brake. The engine driver who was driving the train and the engine driver on a test drive accompanying him attempted to get into cover in the locomotive's equipment space, but only the driver on a test drive had time to exit the cabin. The side windows of the locomotive's cabin broke, increasing the severity of the injuries to the engine driver who was still in the cabin. Additionally, the fuses of the locomotive's batteries broke down in the collision. As a result, all power to the locomotive was cut, meaning that even the emergency lighting did not work. The data recorder also stopped working.

The rescue operations after the accident went smoothly. An exceptional amount of clearance work was required after the accident; for example, a road had to be constructed for the lifting of the locomotive. The clearance was slowed down by the confusion between the infrastructure manager and the railway undertaking concerning responsibilities, command relationships and the use of rescue equipment.

The conditions at the level crossing were inadequate with respect to sight lines and wait platforms. The inadequate wait platforms were common knowledge to those moving in the area, and a local professional driver had contacted the infrastructure manager concerning the matter prior to the accident.

A superstucture replacement project had been implemented on the track section in 2018, during which the risks of the level crossings had been surveyed. Several level crossings with deficiencies were identified on the track section, but they were not corrected in connection with the project. The risks were recorded in the minutes of the project's final meeting as residual risks and transferred to the infrastructure manager. No plan or timetable for eliminating the risks was prepared. As part of the project's permit process, the Finnish Transport Safety Agency required a survey of the risks of the level crossings, but no measures were required to eliminate the identified risks. The Agency did not have instructions for the survey, and there was no process for handling the results.

The safety plan of the waste collection process did not discuss traffic safety, and level crossings were not identified as risks. The instructions and orientation related to safety matters was deficient. The safety plan did not define a process for handling safety-related feedback.

This was a very typical level crossing accident. Several studies have found that inadequate level crossing conditions are one of the background factors of level crossing accidents. A lot of research data is available on the matter, but sufficiently extensive, concrete measures to improve the safety of level crossings have not been taken.

In order to avoid similar accidents and reduce their consequences, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that

the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency ensure the implementation of the following recommendations:

• The Finnish Transport and Infrastructure Agency and other road keepers shall review all speed limits, particularly at unprotected level crossings, and ensure that comply with the guidelines.

• In its track projects, the Finnish Transport and Infrastructure Agency shall prepare a plan and a timetable for the correction of the risks identified at level crossings. It must not be possible to transfer the risks into the future as residual risks.

• VR Group shall change the emergency lighting of the Sr3 locomotive to meet the TSI requirements..

• Railway undertakings shall ensure that the cabin windows of the rolling stock are made of glass that does not cause additional injuries when breaking in an accident.

the Ministry of Transport and Communications ensure the implementation of the following recommendation:

• The Finnish Transport and Infrastructure Agency shall initiate a new review of the regulations concerning clearance work and clarify the roles of the actors in clearance operations.

the joint municipal consortium for waste management Lapeco, in cooperation with the contractors, implement the following recommendation:

• The safety management related to the waste collection process shall take comprehensively into account the requirements of the work processes and the identification of occupational safety and traffic safety risks. Instructions shall be drawn up for the work processes and the orientation of the employees, and they shall be documented. Processes for handling feedback shall be defined in order to improve the operations.

the European Railway Agency (ERA) ensure the implementation of the following recommendation:

• An independent power supply shall be required for new rolling stock being type approved that guarantees the operation of the data recorder for a minimum of 30 minutes after power has been cut off.

The Safety Investigation Authority also recommends the following:

• The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency shall define an approval process for the risk assessment of level crossings and supervise that the corrective measures are taken.

R2018-02 Investigation report (in Finnish) (pdf, 4.99 Mt)

Published 18.7.2019