21 Elron diesel trains were about 1.5 hours late last Thursday

People getting on and off a Tallinn-Tartu-Valga train at Tartu Railway Station. March 15, 2022.
People getting on and off a Tallinn-Tartu-Valga train at Tartu Railway Station. March 15, 2022. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The cause of Thursday's rail disruption is still being investigated. Those who have had their trains delayed for more than a half-hour can apply for compensation.

Nobody knows why the machinery at Tapa station failed and why the breakdown spread to the rest of the railroad. Experts are now examining the equipment, Kaido Zimmermann, chair of the board and director general of the national railroad company AS Eesti Raudtee, said.

Dispatchers who have been knocked off the line must communicate with every station, company on the line and driver. On Thursday afternoon, the airwaves went silent and all of the railroad traffic lights turned red.

"Of course, we called out all of our depot managers who were resting or off duty," Zimmermann said.

"They communicated via cell phones and relayed instructions such as 'this or that train will now move in this direction, while another will travel in the opposite direction, and so on," Zimmermann explained.

Lauri Betlem, chair of the management board of Elron, said that all trains were at first stopped. "Then, different notifications began to arrive for each individual train, such as what it was permitted to do, a request to know precisely where it was or at what speed it was permitted to go. So it was a changeover to a manual control," Betlem said.

There was very little confusion at Estonian Railways. This kind of manual traffic management has been played out many times in exercises.

Zimmerman said that, for example, tracks must be also manually set during maintenance work. The railroad company is also prepared for a prolonged power outage, he added.

"In that case, capacity is reduced and trains move more slowly, but it is theoretically conceivable to operate trains in this way as long as the railway itself is maintained," Zimmermann said.

In future, latecomers should also get meals on trains

While station management regulated train traffic, technicians investigated the cause of the malfunction. The Tapa unit was discovered at half past eight in the evening, six-and-a-half hours after it had failed.

Elron's search for replacement buses proved difficult. According to Betlem, the railroad company does not operate its own bus fleet.

"The bus operators don't have waiting buses, and they don't wait for Elron to call them up," Betlem clarified, adding that this issue quickly became their primary focus last week.

Five diesel train departures were canceled and rerouted by bus on Thursday.
The average delay for the seven delayed electric trains was nine minutes. In total, 21 diesel trains were delayed, with a 1.5-hour average delay.

Betlem said the longest delay on the Tapa-Tartu route was 189 minutes. Since the same train served both the Tartu-Valga and Valga-Koidula lines, it was the train that caused the worst delays.

Betlem said that all Elron trains are provided with bottled water, which was distributed to passengers during the lengthy journey.

The passenger transport legislation, however, requires that passengers on trains that are more than an hour late must also be served food. "However, we were not prepared for that last week," Betlem said. "We must also consider how we will be able to provide food to people in the event of a food shortage."

Ticket money can be refunded

Management at Elron said that passengers whose trains were delayed by more than 30 minutes are eligible for a refund. "As of Sunday evening, many people had contacted us that the total was about €6,500," Betlem said.

Passengers can request a refund by filling in the form on Elron's website. Season ticket holders are also eligible for compensation.

Betlem said that Elron spend a significant amount of money on continual problem resolution, such as arranging replacement buses, and that the company may request support from Eesti Raudtee, the national railroad.

"I believe this particular instance falls under the category 'it can happen.' It is not a fault of anyone in particular," Betlem said.

On Thursday, it was reported that the malfunctioning equipment was antiquated. However, Zimmermann said that the equipment had been operational for about a decade and was not an example of outdated technology.

"These machines are still in production, they are maintained and we have a maintenance contract with a company. The rest of our system is operating on these and there have been no serious failures to date," Zimmermann added.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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