Germany: Man arrested for sabotaging high-speed line

Theiss viaduct, Frankfurt to Cologne high-speed line, Niedernhausen, Hesse, Germany.

A man has been arrested for an apparent attempt to sabotage a German high-speed railway line.

According to reports by German magazine Der Spiegel on Friday 20 March, bolts that hold the track down on the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed line had been loosened over a distance of about 80 metres where the line crosses the Theiss viaduct. 484 metres long, this 11-span, pre-stressed concrete, box-girder viaduct stands up to 50 metres high over a valley and carries the line between two adjacent tunnels.

According to the report, the driver of an early-morning ICE (inter-city express) high-speed train reported an unusual movement as the train crossed the bridge. Engineers immediately investigated and found that the bolts holding the rails down had been loosened, allowing the rails to move so they were up 5cm further apart than they should have been.

The line was immediately closed to traffic and trains diverted.

This wasn’t the first train to use the bridge that morning, and engineers were concerned that, if any more trains had crossed it, the situation could have got worse so that a train could have derailed or even fallen off the viaduct.

Deutsche Bahn (DB) called the incident “sabotage” and police started an investigation.

The Theiss viaduct stands up to 50 metres above the valley floor.


The following day, police arrested a 51-year-old German citizen of no fixed abode. According to Der Spiegel, he had been released from prison in Nuremberg only a few months earlier, having served a sentence for extorsion. Special tools were found in his car, which could have been used to loosen the track bolts.

Apparently, police traced the man due to a letter of confession he had written and sent to various politicians, including the German Chancellor. The letter is said to have specified the precise location of the sabotage.

The man is now under police investigation for attempted murder and dangerous interference in rail traffic.

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