Two regional trains crashed in Bavaria, near Bad Aibling south of Munich, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 100 on Tuesday morning.
The head-on collision caused one train to derail. Footage from the site showed the front cars of both trains wedged into each other, their blue compartments torn open and debris covering the surrounding area.
Authorities from the German Railway Agency and local police teams at the site have yet to identify the exact cause of the collision on the single-track route, which connects the town of Rosenheim with Munich.
Two of the three black boxes aboard the trains have already been found, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, who visited the crash site, told reporters.
“This is definitely one of the major train disasters in the recent past in Germany, and particularly in Bavaria.”
According to media reports late Tuesday night, initial investigations suggest that a human error could be the reason for the crash: An employee at the signal tower allegedly manually disabled an emergency system and signals, so that a delayed train could pass the one-track section, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung reported.
The railway line was equipped with a system designed to avoid collisions by automatically slowing down or stopping a train not authorized to use the tracks, for example, if a train driver disregards a red light, according to Mr. Dobrindt.
The system was installed on all tracks in Germany after a train crash in January 2011 that could have been prevented with the help of the safety system.
In an interview with the German broadcaster NTV, Mr. Dobrindt confirmed the system was checked last week and worked fine.
Because the collision occurred in a bend on the tracks in a wooded area, the train drivers were unable to see each other until moments before the crash, Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told reporters.
Eighteen people are in critical condition after the accident, 90 sustained serious or mild injuries, according to a statement by Bavarian police. Ten people were killed in the collision; two of them have already been identified as the train drivers. One person is still missing, police said in a statement in the afternoon.
Five hundred helpers from the Bavarian Red Cross, fire departments, police and ambulances have been on the site since early morning. Fifteen helicopters were in use throughout the morning, some sent from neighboring Austria, to retrieve critically wounded passengers from the wreckage with rope winches and to dispatch them to nearby hospitals.
Rescue efforts were complicated by the inaccessible crash site. The accident occurred in a wooded area reachable only through a narrow dirt road, with the river Mangfall limiting access on one side. Rescuers used boats to transport victims and supplies as well.
The railway line has been operated by Bayerische Oberlandbahn, a subsidiary of French railroad company Transdev, since late 2013.
The crash occurred at around 6.45 a.m. local time, when many commuters were aboard. Helpers interviewed by German broadcaster NTV expressed relief that it was a school holiday in Bavaria; otherwise, many more children would likely have been aboard the trains and among the victims.
At 1 p.m., most of the rescue had been completed and police took over to investigate.
“This is definitely one of the major train disasters in the recent past in Germany, and particularly in Bavaria,” Mr. Herrmann told reporters.
In 1998, there was a serious rail crash in Eschede, near Hanover, in which 101 people died and 100 were injured.
In 2000, a local train derailed in the station in Brühl, close to Cologne in western Germany.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s crash, parties in Bavaria decided to cancel their Political Ash Wednesday events, a traditional, humorous and satirical tit-for-tat exchange among politicians on the last day of the carnival festivities.
Franziska Roscher is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. Allison Williams, deputy editor in chief at Handelsblatt Global Edition, also contributed to this article. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com