At least 18 people died and 171 more were injured when two trains collided near the Belgian capital of Brussels during morning rush hour on February 15, according to reports. The crash - one of the deadliest 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 one of the commuter trains collided laterally with another as it was shifting onto a merging track, wrecking some carriages and severely damaging 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.
According to Business Insurance, Liege-based Ethias S.A. provided liability coverage to the Belgian railway operator, SNCB, with limits of EUR50 million (USD68 million). A spokesman for Ethias said the liability coverage carries a deductible of EUR1.5 million (USD2 million). He added that Ethias wrote 50% of the coverage, AXA Corporate Solutions 40% and a Belgian branch of Assicurazioni Generali 10%. The Ethias spokesman also confirmed that the company wrote 35% of the property insurance that covered damage to the railway infrastructure and nearby properties. The property insurance coverage has a limit of EUR125 million (USD170 million) and does not cover damage to the trains, the spokesman confirmed.
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Officials now believe the accident occurred due to a lateral collision as one train was diverting to another track, contradicting initial reports of a head-on impact. 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, 171 people were injured, some seriously. 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.
Infrabel, the railway infrastructure operator, 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 were suspended and Eurostar said it is running a reduced service to Brussels until Monday 22 February. Other high-speed services from France and the Netherlands provided by Thalys and TGV will also be suspended until the track has been cleared.
An investigation has been launched into the crash to establish whether human error, mechanical failures or the weather were to blame. Belgian police investigators have recovered the black boxes of the two trains. 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. According to SNCB, the train line where the crash happened is fitted with a security system designed to halt trains automatically at a stop sign but one of the trains involved in the incident was not equipped with the required devise. EU transport officials have urged all parties to await the results of the official investigation before drawing any conclusions. The investigation could take several weeks or months.
The accident is one of the worst rail disasters in Belgian history. Reports said a train crash in 1954 killed 20 people and injured 40 more near Leuven. In 1974, meanwhile, a train derailment killed 18 people and injured 48 more.
Sources: CNN News, BBC News, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News, Insurance Day, Business Insurance
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