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Monday, February 15, 2010

Belgian trains collide in rush-hour near Brussels

February 15 2010 : Two commuter trains collided head-on at rush hour in a Brussels suburb Monday, killing as many as 25 people, Belgian officials said.

The head-on crash overturned several carriages in the snowy conditions at 8.30am local time. Many of the injured will need amputations, the Belgium Government said.

The trains smashed into each other at Buizingen, a suburb of Halle, nine miles southwest of Brussels in Dutch-speaking Flanders. The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.

Dirk Pieters, the Mayor of Halle, said that at least 20 had been killed. “All the emergency services are there. The most seriously injured are being treated at the scene before being taken to hospital,” he said.

One unnamed passenger told local media that carriages had been overturned by the impact of the crash.

“The collision was brutal, the train didn’t brake,” the passenger said. “Lots of people are in shock”.

Another witness who was passing in a car nearby said: "I heard a loud bang. I thought it was an earthquake".

One train was going from Quiévrain to Liege and the other from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte.

Etienne Schouppe, the Belgian Ssecretary of State for Mobility, said that there were many seriously injured people at the scene who needed amputations

Neither the national rail company, SNCB, nor the track operator, Infrabel, were able to confirm the toll. Fanny Charpentier, an Infrabel spokeswoman, said that police believed there were at least 12 dead.

The crash caused massive damage to overhead power lines and occured where tracks for domestic and high speed trains meet.

Eurostar has suspended its high-speed trains in and out of Brussels and the train operator said that t could remain shut down all day.

"We advise Brussels travellers booked today to exchange their tickets or have them refunded. This can be done free of charge through your original point of purchase," the company said on its website. "Our Paris services are not affected. Lille services are running with delays," it added.

Thalys high-speed trains said that all traffic between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam had been temporarily halted because it runs on the lines used by the commuter trains that collided.

In 2008, more than 40 people were injured when a passenger train travelling in the wrong direction struck a freight train at Hermalle-sous-Huy in central Belgium.

In March 2001, two passenger trains crashed head-on at Pecrot to the east of Brussels, killing eight people including both drivers, and injuring 12. That crash was blamed on human error, including staff at two Belgian stations not speaking a common language.

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