Switch operator calls himself last link in chain of errors in Ankara train crash

A railroad switch operator for Turkish state railways (TCDD), who is among the ten suspects on trial for the fatal train crash in Ankara in 2018, said he was the last link in a chain of events leading to the accident and apologised for his responsibility during the first hearing of the case on Monday.

A high-speed train travelling from Turkish capital Ankara to the central Anatolian province of Konya had crashed into a railway engine on Dec. 13, 2018, killing nine and injuring dozens.

Osman Yıldırım had not received prior training to operate digital railway switches, and he was working alone due to budget issues on the night of the crash, Turkish news site Duvar said citing his testimony in court.

Prior to the accident, Yıldırım received information on his radio that switches had frozen over and worked on several of them, including the one for the rail on which the accident occurred later on. 

“I thought I had managed (to switch the rail over), but apparently I hadn’t,” he said in court.

The switch operator was familiar with analogue switches, which have indicators for which rail trains will continue on, but couldn’t tell that the digital switch had failed to engage.

Yıldırım’s lawyer said he had not been given all of the training necessary to operate on the railway in question, pointing to responsibility by the railway company. 

The accident could have been avoided if there was a signalling system installed on the line, Yıldırım said. 

Suspect and TCDD department chairman for station management Mükerrem Aydoğdu objected, saying that there is always a risk even with the best signalling systems. 

According to Aydoğdu, the fault lied with distracted operators.

Dispatcher Sinan Yavuz, another suspect in the case, said it was not possible to check every time the switch needed to be changed, as it was changed every ten to fifteen minutes.

Suspect Emin Ercan Erbey, a traffic controller, said he let through the train, which later crashed into another train on the line, after receiving confirmation of the railway switch. 

Suspect Ergün Tuna, the deputy assistant manager for traffic, said there was no signalling system on the line and the directorate knew about it, with plans to renew the system in coming months.

One of the lawyers of the suspects pointed to suspect Kadir Oğuz, the deputy director of the Ankara Train Station, as the one mainly responsible for the accident, rather than the low-level employees.

Ankara director of the high-speed train line, Duran Yaman, said seven workers were employed to tend to the line instead of the recommended five, maintaining that he implemented sufficient security measures and was not liable in any way.

“We have a high-speed train that is quite successful. This is a train that has no accidents up to this time,” Yaman said, which sparked reactions by people injured in the crash.