Passengers die in Spanish train crash at junction

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Up to four people were reported killed last night after a passenger train with 87 people on board collided with a goods train in south-eastern Spain. Around 40 were being treated in hospital for head and other injuries, and for shock. Seven were in a serious condition.

The accident took place some five miles from the town of Chichilla, near Albacete. Two deaths were confirmed last night, but radio reports spoke of three or four killed in the crash. Initial reports that the goods train carried dangerous substances were denied by the Spanish railway company Renfe.

The 28-coach goods train had on a previous journey carried sulphuric acid and sodium hydroxide but was not carrying any such material at the time of the accident, Renfe sources said. More than 30 ambulances headed to the site, and ferried the injured to Albacete hospital.

The accident occurred at a junction just outside Chichilla station by an old level crossing. "The goods train literally climbed on top of the passenger train, and both trains burst into flames. Three coaches of the passenger train were burning," one passenger said. Firefighters doused the flames.

One neighbour said the local authorities alerted residents of the town to stay off the streets and close their doors and windows to prevent the possibly toxic fumes from entering their homes. Another witness at the accident site said there was a strong smell "similar to ammonia".

The Public Works Minister, Francisco Alvarez Cascos, and the president of Renfe, Miguel Corsini, headed for the site.

This has been a poor year for Spanish railways, tarnishing one of Europe's best rail safety records. Some 13 train accidents so far this year, mostly derailments, have caused three deaths and 80 injuries.

On 4 January two passengers died and 24 were injured when the passenger train between Madrid and Cartagena, also near Albacete, derailed in an accident that was initially blamed on sabotage. But investigation pointed to a fault in the track. In a later accident the same month, sabotage was blamed.

A local government official told Antena 3 television yesterday that more than 30 people had been treated for injuries, but no deaths had been confirmed.

"This was a head-on crash, either because of a technical or human error ... no bodies have been recovered but we suspect there are several dead, although we can't confirm anything," said Antonio Rincon, an official from the Albacete local government.

The passenger train, which had been travelling to the south-eastern coastal city of Cartagena from the capital, Madrid, had nearly 90 people on board, Renfe said.

Police warned people in Chinchilla to stay indoors and close their windows, believing the freight train was carrying sulphuric acid. But Renfe said that although the train had carried this toxic chemical in an earlier trip, those tanker cars were empty at the time of the crash.