At least 18 people died and 140 more were injured when two trains collided head-on near the Belgian capital of Brussels during morning rush hour on February 15, according to reports. The crash - one of the worst rail accidents in Belgian history - occurred just outside the station of Buizingen, near the town of Halle, at around 08:30 local time (07:30 UTC) as commuters headed to work in Brussels. Reports said the trains were travelling in opposite directions on the same track, resulting in a collision that wrecked some carriages and severely damaged overhead power lines. The force of the collision smashed one train deep into the other, causing severe injuries to passengers as the front ends of both trains pushed upwards in a mass of twisted metal. Other carriages were hurled on to their sides, reports said. Insurance Day said the Belgian railway operator, SNCB, and the railway infrastructure operator, Infrabel, are both publicly owned and insurance claims are not expected to enter the London market.
Rail officials said the two trains were carrying up to 300 people at the time of the crash. Witnesses said people were thrown around violently inside the trains with one passenger describing the “carriages compacted together” by the collision. Emergency workers said there was considerable damage to the overhead power lines on a key line near Buizingen Station. According to officials, more than 140 people were injured - 55 seriously while a further 89 people sustained minor injuries. Doctors were reported to have treated some of the seriously injured at the scene of the crash, including performing amputations, while others had been taken to nearby hospitals. Those who sustained more minor injuries were taken to a sports hall for treatment, reports said.
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Infrabel said one of the trains had been travelling northwards from Quievrain, near the French border in the southern region of Wallonia, to Liege. The other was coming from Leuven, in the northern Flanders region. The crash caused widespread rail disruption in Belgium and further afield. Several local train services in Belgium have been suspended and all Eurostar services in and out of Brussels have been cancelled for a second day. Eurostar said there were also delays on the service to Lille in northern France, but the London to Paris services are not affected. Elsewhere, Thalys rail services to France, Germany and the Netherlands also suffered major disruption because they use the same rails as commuter lines near Halle. TGV Europe, meanwhile, announced that its Brussels-bound services were only going as far as Lille. The Brussels public prosecutor’s office said the crashed trains may not be completely removed from the tracks for two or three days.
An investigation has been launched into the crash and Belgian police investigators will start to examine the black boxes of the two trains to establish the cause of the accident. Provincial Governor Lodewijk De Witte said the train travelling from Leuven had failed to stop at a red light and ploughed into the other express train that was running some 10 minutes late. However, Infrabel said it was difficult to speculate on the cause at this stage. SNCB also said it was too early to determine the cause of the accident. Officials said it was snowing at the time of the crash, but not an unusual amount.
The accident is one of the worst rail disasters in Belgian history. Reports said a train derailment in 1974 killed 18 people and injured 48 more. In March 2001, meanwhile, two passenger trains crashed head-on at Pecrot to the east of Brussels, killing eight people and injuring 12.
Sources: CNN News, BBC News, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News, Insurance Day
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