Austrian freight trains searched after stowaway deaths

Austria’s national rail carrier ÖBB and the police have started routinely searching freight trains in a bid to tackle the issue of illegal immigrants. It follows the deaths of two people who had hidden on a night train from Italy to Austria, amid a growing problem of train stowaways from eastern Europe and Africa.

A man and a woman from Eritrea who had hidden on a train bringing trucks from Italy were crushed to death in Austria’s Tyrol province. It is thought they most likely lost consciousness due to freezing winter temperatures, Reuters news agency reports.

Freezing temperatures

Since early November, police have picked up about 90 African migrants heading for Germany on railways in Tyrol, which are used by most cargo trains going from Italy across the Alps. Austrian Police say they fear a repeat of an incident in August 2015, when they found 71 dead migrants in a locked lorry.

Police are now stopping and searching all goods trains coming from Italy between 10pm and 6am around the border town of Steinach, about 80 kilometres closer to Italy than Woergl, where the two migrants died. ÖBB said safety was the ‘number one priority’ and that it was working closely with the police to protect human life and ensure a proper rail operation.

Intensified controls

With temperatures of minus 4 degrees celsius overnight, about 10 police officers and rail security officers in Steinach train station started carefully searching 10 freight trains this week, some of which were about 600 metres (1,970 feet) long.

Manfred Dummer of Tyrol Police, said: “Illegal migrants always try to scout out new ways to get north. We have reacted to this phenomenon of freight train stowaways and intensified controls. Every kilometre that they’re not on the train at these temperatures is vital.”

Gerald Tatzgern, who heads the anti-human trafficking unit at the Interior Ministry, singled out Bulgaria and Serbia as the main hubs for traffickers smuggling Afghan nationals between cargo on trains, sometimes in groups of up to 30 people in one wagon. Last month, one migrant died from an electric shock received after climbing on the roof of a truck transported on a train in Austria’s Styria province.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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