Eight killed in commuter service's head-on crash with goods locomotive

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The Independent Online

At least eight people were killed and dozens more escaped death after a head-on collision between a crowded commuter train and an empty train 25km (16 miles) east of Brussels yesterday.

At least eight people were killed and dozens more escaped death after a head-on collision between a crowded commuter train and an empty train 25km (16 miles) east of Brussels yesterday.

The crash left mangled wreckage arched precariously along an embankment above a street in the town of Pécrot. It showered debris into gardens no more than 30 metres away but, fortunately, the trains came to rest on the embankment, sparing homes below.

Signalmen who saw the crash unfolding on their computer screens tried desperately to cut the power to the tracks ­ engaging emergency brakes ­ but were too late.

Belgian railways said that both drivers and a ticket inspector were killed, as well as five passengers, one of whom was thought to be 13 years old. Last night, as rescue workers picked their way through the wreckage, three others were seriously ill, six people were suffering from light injuries and one was unaccounted for.

Etienne Schouppe of SNCB-NMBS, the Belgian railway company, said: "We have had smaller rail accidents of course, but this sort of accident has not happened in 20 years."

The investigation is trying to establish why the driver of the empty train went through a red light. The railway company says the driver was experienced and had passed all the safety tests. Belgium has invested in technology to avoid such accidents but the system is not yet fully operational.

Instead of stopping to be diverted down a parallel track, the empty train, travelling at about 60mph, ploughed into the front of the passenger train at 8.45am. The carriages of the southbound passengertrain were crushed on impact.

Marie-Anne Pollaris, who saw the crash from her upstairs bathroom window, said: "The impact was like an explosion. One train shot up in the air, there was debris in the air and it seemed like a dark cloud. I ran out of the house." A large part of a maroon train door and two pieces of track landed in her garden, fewer than 30 metres from the point of impact.

The four-coach train with about 80 passengers was travelling south-west from Louvain to Ottignies; the empty train was destined for Louvain. The last serious crash in Belgium was in 1996, when three people were killed at Roulers.

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