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  Europe
Deadly Italian Train Crash Kills 6
Derailment Leads to Catastrophe
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Deadly Italian Train Crash Kills 6

Merano is an alpine ski resort in Northern Italy, near the Austrian border. It is a picturesque city with some breathtaking views of the snowy mountain peaks that surround it, some of which are up to 10,000 feet high. It sits in a lush valley, and has been called “The Italian Shangri-La”. It is also – and more commonly – known as “The City of Flowers”.

There are two types of flowers – those that raise a smile, and those that bring a tear. Unfortunately, it is the latter that you will find in the area close to Merano today.

At 9.05 this morning (April 11, 2010), local time, a train running on the line between Castabello and Laces derailed, killing at least six people. Reports say a landslide near Merano hit the train, sending it sliding down a bank, where it came to rest against two pine trees, which saved it from falling into a river below.

The train itself was a local service with only two carriages. It was running on a line which was only inaugurated in 2005, and is one of the most modern in Italy.

Avalanches in the mountains sometimes cause mudslides in the spring, which begs the question – why build a railway line there? Or if there was no other choice, why not at least build in safety measures to protect it from these mudslides? It makes you wonder if those with power have been gambling with human lives to save a buck again.

Whatever the cause, there are at least six people who won’t be going home tonight. Worse still is that rescue workers say that the death toll could increase. Twenty other passengers were injured in the crash, some of them quite seriously.

Florian Schrofeneger of the fire department in nearby Bolzano told local media, “Six or seven people were killed, but the death toll could get worse.”

The world is an imperfect place. Despite our best efforts, things sometimes go wrong and there are accidents – some fatal. With that in mind, and taking into account today’s technology, could there ever be an “acceptable” level of deadly train crashes in one country? In law school we were taught that medical negligence cases are one of the hardest to win because judges don’t expect doctors to be perfect since “they’re only human”. This would lead to the reasonable assumption that there is an “acceptable” level of medical error due to the human factor.

Rail companies are run by humans; the tracks are maintained by humans, as are the trains themselves, which are also driven by humans. There’s human factor everywhere! So does this mean we can expect a certain number of deaths on the railways and write them off as some kind of operating expense?

Of course we can’t! However, the reason I asked the question is that, if we could, then surely Italy has exceeded its quota for the last decade. Counting today’s, there have been three deadly train crashes in Italy in the last five years. The last one was less than a year ago.

In July 2009, a train carrying gas tanks derailed as it passed through the northern town of Viareggio. The train exploded, engulfing nearby homes in flames. The death toll for that day was 22.

The final part of this trilogy of tragedy took place in 2005, in Bologna – again in Northern Italy. In that one, 17 people died when an express train ran head-on into a freight train.

That’s at least 45 lives lost on the Italian rail system in 5 years, an average of 9 per year. Since Trenitalia, the state-controlled carrier, owns 95% of Italian tracks and trains, perhaps it’s time questions were asked about Trenitalia’s safety record. With the state controlling the company, perhaps Italian taxpayers should be demanding answers as to why at least another six lives have been lost on their railways.

I tried to speak to Trenitalia to ask some of these questions, but I found myself facing an insurmountable language barrier – whether that was deliberate or not, I’ll leave to your own speculation. Since my own smattering of Italian comes from The Godfather movie trilogy I thought it best not to try to communicate with them in their language for fear of causing an international incident. However, to any Italian-speakers reading this, I would urge you to confront Trenitalia before more people die.



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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