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Saved by the whale: Runaway train caught by fateful sculpture

A photo taken in Spijkenisse, the Netherlands, on Monday shows a metro train that shot through a stop block at De Akkers metro station. (Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images)

A fatefully placed whale sculpture in the Netherlands saved a careening train from certain devastation Monday, catching the lead runaway metro carriage on the graceful arc of its mammoth tail.

The improbable incident unfolded at the De Akkers metro station in Spijkenisse just after midnight. Photos from the scene suggest that the train, part of the Rotterdam Metro network, had been unable to stop as it reached its terminus and overran the track.

A whale sculpture stopped a metro train when it crashed through barriers at the end of the station in the town of Spijkenisse in the Netherlands early Nov. 2. (Video: AP)

Rather than fall more than 30 feet to the ground, the train was brought to a stop by one of two whale tail sculptures at the end of the track. The driver of the train was able to escape. He visited a hospital as a precautionary measure, according to local media reports.

Dutch emergency services have told reporters there were no other passengers aboard.

The artwork’s official name, “Saved by the Whale’s Tail,” now seems apt. Made out of plastic and installed in 2002, its designer seemed surprised it could hold a moving train.

“It has been there for almost 20 years,” architect Maarten Struijs told NOS. “You actually expect the plastic to disintegrate a bit, but that apparently is not the case.” Struijs told the Dutch broadcaster that the event was a “miracle” and that he was impressed by how artistic the train looked on his creation.

“I’ll make sure that I get a few photos,” Struijs said. The architect is not alone in admiring the unusual sight. Photos from social media suggest that the crash has become a point of interest for curious locals.

Experts said it was unclear why the train had not been stopped by automatic buffers at the end of the track. “I don’t understand how this can happen,” Rob Goverde, professor of rail traffic engineering at TU Delft, told Algemeen Dagblad. "Apparently something went wrong technically, possibly combined with human error.”

Authorities must now figure out how to remove the train from its perch. It is not clear how long the plastic structure can support the carriage, but lifting the train could prove difficult, as the track lies directly above water.

Dutch emergency services said that a group of experts had arrived at the scene on Monday to see if the train needed to be secured before removal.

“Given the complexity [of the task], this will take some time,” a website for Rijnmond emergency services warned, adding that people visiting the site are advised to keep their distance because of coronavirus restrictions.

Police said that they had taken the driver of the train in for routine questioning and that the cause of the crash was still under investigation.