Officer severely burned in rail yard shock near Stuttgart
June 10, 2005
A 1st Armored Division officer received burns over 70 percent of his body Sunday when he climbed atop an armored vehicle mounted on a railcar near Stuttgart, Germany, and was shocked by high-voltage power lines.
The officer’s name was being withheld for privacy reasons, Army officials said.
The officer was injured when the train — hauling the equipment to the Grafenwöhr training area in southeastern Germany — got delayed in a rail yard, and he got out to perform a security detail, U.S. Army Europe safety director Mike Willoughby said.
The injured officer, whose unit was not released, was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and then transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, a Landstuhl spokeswoman said.
The incident was the second in two months in which a person was shocked after climbing atop a military vehicle being transported by rail. In April, a German teenager was killed and his brother seriously injured in northwest Germany when they climbed on top of a tank and came into close contact with overhead wires.
Details of Sunday’s accident are being withheld pending an Army investigation into the matter.
“But one fact is clear,” the USAREUR commander, Gen. B.B. Bell, wrote in a June 7 safety alert. “Climbing on loaded railcars is dangerous.”
It was Bell’s third message on the topic in the past two years.
The officer was described in Bell’s message as an “officer in charge of a railcar-movement operation.”
It was unclear whether he touched an exposed power line or was struck by an arc of electricity from the 15,000- to 17,000-volt wires that power the train, officials said. It’s also not known why the soldier climbed onto the railcar, Army officials said.
In Bell’s April alert following the incident with the German teen, he reminded soldiers that there are specific Army regulations regarding the safe transport of armor by rail.
Essentially, that guidance says, “Thou shalt not get on top of railcars for any reason,” said 1st Armored Division safety specialist Dave Scott.
Soldiers also receive mandatory training on railcar safety before transporting heavy equipment by train, Scott said. Scott was unclear, however, on how far in advance of a rail movement troops are typically warned about power line danger.
In Germany, trains are powered by live, bare wires that soldiers from the States aren’t used to seeing, Willoughby said. The lines are powerful enough to create an electric field several feet in diameter that can attract a current to a person, Scott said.
“If you come into the range of that field … then it will arc through your body,” he said. When grounded to a metal vehicle, “the body literally cooks,” he said.
Sunday’s incident was the sixth involving military rail transports since 1992 — five were nonfatal — after officials decided to take armored transports off German autobahns, Scott said.