Crash sparks train driver strike in Belgium

Train drivers across Belgium went on strike yesterday, saying that a collision that killed 18 people on the outskirts of Brussels had vindicated fears over rail safety.

The strikers said that the devastating train crash between two trains in Buizingen, south-west of the capital, may have partly been the result of poor safety equipment. "There have been accidents before," said Lupo de Groot, an engine driver from Leuven who was among the strikers. "And if it carries on like this, there'll be more accidents of this kind."

But prosecutors refused to confirm reports that one of the train drivers drove through a red light and that the trains were not equipped with new safety equipment that should have automatically stopped the engine.

The Belgian national rail services (SNCB) admitted that not all trains were fully equipped with the system, introduced after another crash in 2001. "An overhaul like this takes time and does not happen overnight," it said. "There are procedures to follow." Investigators said it could take weeks to analyse the two engine black boxes. They also hope to speak to the sole surviving driver, who was badly injured.

Train traffic across Wallonia in southern Belgium was suspended for a second day, as well as all Eurostar and Thalys services.

It emerged that the train driver who is thought to have gone through the red light survived the crash by leaping out of his cabin just moments before the crash. Lucian Spiessens, a former station master at Buizingen, witnessed the escape as he sat in the first train carriage. "The driver sent out an SOS signal and then tried to make an emergency brake. He jumped out of the engine cabin just before the crash," he told Belga, the Belgian press agency.