At least 18 dead as Belgian train speeds through red signal and plows into second commuter train
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — A rushhour commuter train sped through a red signal and slammed into an oncoming train as it left a suburban Brussels station Monday, killing at least 18 people and disrupting rail traffic in northern Europe.
Investigations into one the worst accidents on the Belgian rails were likely to focus on whether human error was responsible or if it could have been influenced by the persistently freezing temperatures that have iced up the European capital.
Officials said 80 people were injured, 20 of them seriously, and the death toll — 15 men and three women — was not considered final. As darkness fell more than 10 hours later, rescuers were still looking for victims in the wreckage, said Jos Colpin, the spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office.
The fate of the two drivers was not immediately known, and officials said they were having difficulty identifying some of the victims.
The trains, carrying a total of about 300 passengers, collided in light snow just outside of the station at Buizingen about 9 miles (15 kms) from Brussels around 8:30 a.m. (0730 GMT).
The impact peeled away the front of one train car and threw at least one other off the tracks, severing the limbs of some passengers, witnesses and officials said. One engine was thrust high into the air and snapped overhead power lines.
“ When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated,” said Patricia Lallemand, 40, who was in a middle car of one train and was unhurt.
Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, told reporters one train “apparently did not heed a stop light.”
One of the front cars appeared to have careened across the tracks, demolishing a small maintenance shed next to the rail line. A high concrete wall around the train yard seemed to have kept debris from hitting nearby houses.
Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, expressed his “shock and sorrow” over the accident. King Baudouin and Prime Minister Leterme, who cancelled a trip to Kosovo moments after landing in Pristina, visited the crash site.
It was the first serious Belgian train accident since March 28, 2001, when eight people died when a crowded train plowed into an empty train driving on the wrong tracks. The worst European crash in recent history was near the German town of Eschede in 1998 when around 100 people were killed when a cracked wheel hurled a train off the tracks.
Belgian National Railways spokesman Jochen Goovaerts said his agency was awaiting the outcome of the investigation before discussing the cause of Monday’s accident. RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday Iran is sliding into a military dictatorship, a new assessment suggesting a rockier road ahead for U.S.-led efforts to stop Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
As the first high-level Obama administration official to make such an accusation, Clinton was reflecting an ever-dimming outlook for persuading Iran to negotiate limits on its nuclear program, which it has insisted is intended only for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and others — including the two Gulf countries Clinton visited Sunday and Monday — believe Iran is headed for a nuclear bomb capability.
Clinton also was revealing the logic of the administration’s plan to target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with a new round of international sanctions intended to compel Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions before it increases the likelihood of a military clash.
Clinton flew to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and then was driven in King Abdullah’s private bus about 65 miles northeast to Rawdat Khurayim.
Rescue workers and policemen work in and around two passenger trains that collided in Belgium, Monday. Early reports say at least 18 people have been killed in a head-on collision between two trains outside the capital, Brussels. Officials say the trains collided during the morning rush hour in snowy conditions.