Speaking at a press conference, Gliese said: "Had the dispatcher acted in accordance with the rules, as bound by his duty, the accident would not have happened." Prosecutors have opened involuntary manslaughter proceedings against a 39-year-old man.

Investigators are still determining the exact series of events, but prosecutor Mr Jurgen Branz added: "A special signal was activated that shouldn't have been. What we have at the moment is a single, terrible failure."

After the dispatcher realised his mistake he made a distress call to the trains but this was not heeded.

The collision involved two Stadler Flirt trains operated by Transdev subsidiary Meridian and occurred at 06.48 CET between Kolbermoor and Bad Aibling on the Rosenheim – Holzkirchen route south of Munich. The 37km largely single-track line is equipped with PZB 90 cab signalling and train protection.

German Rail (DB) expected to recover the final vehicle on February 17 before repairing around 120m of damaged infrastructure. It says the line will remain closed until February 21 at the earliest.