Rescue workers search for bodies in wreckage of train crash

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Rescue workers searching for bodies picked through the tangled wreckage of two trains that collided in mountains outside Sydney, killing at least six passengers and injuring more than 50.

Rescue workers searching for bodies picked through the tangled wreckage of two trains that collided in mountains outside Sydney, killing at least six passengers and injuring more than 50.

The commuter train rounded a blind corner outside Sydney during the morning rush and slammed into the back of the transcontinental Indian Pacific, carrying 159 passengers, many of them elderly tourists, state rail authorities said.

"Seats went flying, people went flying, goods went flying," said Michael Irik, who was a passenger on the commuter train.

The front of the commuter train, with about 1,000 passengers aboard, was mangled and carved open by the impact. All the dead were in the first car of that train.

Emergency workers had recovered the bodies of a boy, four women and a man from the mangled wreckage by Thursday night. Police Commander Bruce Johnson said he did not know if more would be found. The identities of the victims were not immediately released.

Rail authorities said the two-level commuter train may have been traveling at up to 80 kph (50 mph) when it crashed near Glenbrook, a small town at the base of the Blue Mountains, 56 kilometers (35 miles) west of Sydney.

The Indian Pacific, headed to Sydney from Perth, was either stopped or barely moving when the commuter train rammed it.

A few minutes before the crash, an announcement on the Indian Pacific's public address system said the train would be delayed because of a signal failure, passenger Irene Barnes said.

State Rail Authority spokesman appeared to bolster theories of signal problems when he told Sky News, "There is some evidence to suggest there may have been a minor defect that may have caused at least one signal to be fixed or locked in the red position."

Great Southern Railways said the driver of the Indian Pacific saw a red signal, stopped, and then was continuing at a crawl when the crash occurred.

The New South Wales state government announced a judicial inquiry.

"We were sitting on the bottom level when a man came running out of the front. ... It was the driver, and he said 'everybody get down,"' commuter train passenger Lindsay Plim said. "As soon as he said that, we went into this monstrous skid. ... All the seats came forward in the impact."

Wayne Geddes, a spokesman for New South Wales State Rail, said six people were killed and that the death toll was expected to rise.

"There are going to be maybe 10 or 12 families tonight who will be very sad," said New South Wales state premier Bob Carr, visiting the scene in a mountain gully. "We think of them at this time of grief and shock."

It was fortunate that the last Indian Pacific car was loaded with travelers' vehicles, ambulance spokesman Graham Field said.

"If the last carriage of the Indian Pacific was carrying passengers, we still would have had a lot more dead and injured," he said.

Fifty-one people were taken to nearby hospitals. At least one had a spinal injury, and others had broken bones. Eight of those hospitalized were in serious condition.

Dozens more were treated for minor injuries at the scene and at a nearby sports field. Emergency services workers appealed to Sydney residents to give blood.

Stephen Bradford, chief executive of the Great Southern Railway Co., which owns the Indian Pacific, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that five of the train's 159 passengers received minor injuries.

Australia's worst rail disaster was on Jan. 18, 1977, when a crowded commuter train derailed and struck the supporting pillars of a road bridge, which collapsed. Eighty-three people were killed and 200 injured.

One survivor of the crash, Christian Dupressoir, also survived that disaster.

"The front carriage was pretty horrific. The train was fairly packed and people were thrown all over the place," Dupressoir said.