Train collision kills at least eighteen near Brussels, Belgium

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Belgian authorities have confirmed that at least eighteen people died in a head-on collision between two passenger trains in the suburbs of Brussels. Other reports suggest that the death toll could be as high as 25. More than 125 passengers are reported injured, 11 of them "very seriously". Rescuers were still trying to free bodies from the wreckage of the trains more than eight hours after the crash, which occurred in snowy conditions at 08:28 local time (0728 UTC) near the station of Buizingen in the municipality of Halle, about 15 kilometres southwest of the Belgian capital.

One of the trains involved was travelling from Quiévrain to Liège, while the other was travelling from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte. The collision saw the first two carriages of one train being forced upwards into the air over the first carriage of the second train. Eyewitnesses described the collision as "brutal", with passengers being thrown "violently" around the carriages.

Location of the collision within Belgium

Television footage showed the two smashed locomotives forced up in the air, with passenger cars strewn over a wide area and dazed survivors wandering at the crash site. Train speed at the time of the crash was not immediately known. There are reports that one of the trains ran a stop signal.

Initial reports suggest that the Leuven–Braine-le-Comte train was on the wrong line. It is not known if the train went through a red signal or if there was a problem with the signalling. A "well informed source" quoted by French-language daily Le Soir suggested that there might have been an electrical failure in the signalling system.

The collision occurred on one of the main access lines to Brussels-South station, about 14 kilometres (9 miles) from the Belgian capital. It caused "major damage" to overhead power cables, especially on the Brussels–Mons and Brussels–Tournai lines, and high speed rail services between Brussels and France and the UK have been suspended. Thalys services were temporarily halted due to the accident, with four of its trains in the region being diverted to alternative stations. Thalys services between Brussels and Cologne have now resumed, but services to Amsterdam and Paris are still suspended.

One passenger on board, Christian Wampach, described conditions on board the train, "It was a nightmare. We were thrown about for about 15 seconds. There were a number of people injured in my car but I think all the dead were in the first car." Wampach was in the third car.

Another passenger, Patricia Lallemand, said, "When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated."


Sources

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