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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 05:03 GMT
Nine killed in Sydney rail crash
The scene of the crash near Waterfall, New South Wales
Two of the carriages overturned in a ravine
At least nine people have died and many more have been injured in a train derailment south of the Australian city of Sydney.

All four carriages of the morning rush-hour train came off the track in a steep ravine near the village of Waterfall, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the city.

A rescue helicopter arrives at the scene of the crash
Helicopters brought medical staff and took injured to hospital
Emergency workers were hindered in reaching the scene by the rugged terrain surrounding the wreckage, which lay with steep embankments on both sides.

A full inquiry has been announced into the crash, which has become Australia's worst rail accident for a quarter of a century.

The state premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, said nine people had been killed, but that rescuers had now cut all the survivors free from the wreckage.

The driver is thought to be among the dead.

War zone

Rescuers had to carry heavy cutting equipment 1.5 kilometres (one mile) along a bush track to reach the wreck.

There was a loud bang and we went over [and] my carriage lay on its side

Passenger Nonee Walsh
Helicopters winched medical teams down to the crash site and ferried the injured to hospital.

Many of the 80 or so passengers on the service from Sydney were said to be heading to register as students at Wollongong University or to work in the steelworks town of Port Kembla.

Stephen Leahy of the Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter rescue service said the area looked like a battlefield.

The front carriage of the train
The front of the train smashed into a cliff
"The scene can be only described similar to what we've seen in recent war movies... where there are bodies just strewn around the scene," he said.

Acting New South Wales police commissioner Dave Madden said the train had left the track just after 0700 (2000 GMT Thursday) with the engine crashing into a sandstone cliff.

The remaining double-decker carriages dragged along the sandstone wall, all four coming off the tracks, and two tipping on their sides.

He said the scene was "quite devastating".

He said investigators would examine factors such as speed, objects on the track, buckling of the track and "all possible causes" of the crash.

Alarm

Nonee Walsh, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter who was a passenger, said the train appeared to accelerate just before derailing.

Map of New South Wales showing Sydney and Waterfall
"I may have been dozing but just south of Waterfall, the train seemed to just suddenly speed up to the point that the people in my carriage kind of looked up in alarm," she said.

"Then it appeared to hit a corner. There was a loud bang and we went over [and] my carriage lay on its side."

There is some speculation that the weather may have played a part.

Temperatures around Sydney soared to 43C (109F) the day before and may have affected the tracks, correspondents say.

But at least three other trains are reported to have used the track earlier in the day without incident.

Australia's worst rail disaster occurred at Granville the west of Sydney in January 1977 when 83 people were killed when a packed peak-hour train derailed and crashed into a concrete bridge.

In 1999, seven people were killed and 51 injured when a commuter train slammed into the back of another passenger train at Glenbrook, 55km (34 miles) west of Sydney.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"Some here are already blaming the weather for this accident"
The BBC's Phil Mercer
"This was a very crowded commuter train"
See also:

31 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
02 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
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