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Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Belgian train crash: Eighteen people dead in Halle

Bart Ouvry, Belgian Foreign Department: "We have a great number of victims"

Eighteen people have been killed in a head-on collision between two passenger trains in Belgium, although the death toll could rise.

Railway officials said the trains collided during the morning rush hour at Halle, south-west of Brussels. One reportedly missed a stop signal.

"The devastation is enormous," said an official, as bloodied passengers were helped from the wrecked carriages.

Rail services to south-western Belgium, Paris and London were cancelled.

There were varying reports about the death toll, but eight hours after the crash the crisis centre set up to deal with the accident said 15 men and three women had been killed.

AT THE SCENE
BBC News correspondent Matt Cole
Matt Cole, BBC News, Halle

As word spread about what is believed to be Belgium's worst railway crash in 30 years, crowds of onlookers began to gather. Among them were small children, being raised aloft by their parents to stare at the scene on the first day of their half-term holiday.

The walking wounded were taken from the crash site and up a hill to a nearby sports centre, where they received basic medical care. Outside people with sombre faces hugged each other as all around the numbers of emergency personnel grew.

Other officials were reported as saying up to 25 people had died. There were reports of passengers still trapped in the wreckage hours after the crash.

'Enormous devastation'

The two trains collided in the commuter town around 0830 local time (0730 GMT).

The governor of Flemish Brabant province, Lodewijk De Witte, said one of the trains seemed to have missed a stop signal.

Belgium's track operator Infrabel said an investigation into the accident was under way, and it was difficult to speculate on the cause at this stage.

Television pictures showed carriages pushed up at an angle or leaning to the side from the force of the crash.

Witnesses said people were thrown around violently inside the trains with one passenger describing the "carriages compacted together" by the collision.

Map showing Belgium and train lines affected by crash at Halle

The two trains were carrying a total of about 250 to 300 people, a rail official said, AFP news agency reported.

Emergency workers said there was considerable damage to the overhead power lines at the station in Buizingen, the district of Halle where the trains crashed.

"The devastation is enormous," said Infrabel spokesman Bram De Saedeleer.

"Officials of the public prosecutor's office are at the scene and will supervise the investigation. Our first concern is for the victims."

Doctors were treating some of the injured at the scene of the crash, including performing amputations, while others had been taken to nearby hospitals.

Wreckage of the two trains that collided in Halle, near Brussels, Belgium - 15 February 2010

Slightly injured passengers, said to number about 150, were taken to a sports hall for treatment.

But there has been confusion over the number of people killed and injured in the collision.

Belgian broadcaster VRT reported that sources with the national railway operator said 25 people had been killed, but the operator, SNCB, said it had not released an official figure.

Local mayor Dirk Pieters said "the most recent information we have is that 20 people died. I base this on what the police and firefighters tell me."

'Nightmare'

One passenger in the third carriage, Christian Wampach, told AP news agency: "It was a nightmare.

"We were thrown about for about 15 seconds. There were a number of people injured in my car but I think all the dead were in the first car."

RECENT EUROPE CRASHES
15 Feb 2010: Two commuter trains collide near Halle, Belgium, killing between 10 and 25 people
29 June 2009: Twenty-two people killed when a freight train carrying gas explodes and crashes into homes in Viareggio, Italy
June 2006: At least 30 people are killed and a dozen hurt in a metro train crash in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia
January 2006: At least 39 people die and 135 are injured when a train plunges down a ravine after its brakes fail in Podgorica, Montenegro
October 1999: Thirty-one people are killed when a high-speed passenger train approaching London's Paddington Station collides with a local commuter train

A fellow passenger, Patricia Lallemand, said: "When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks."

Infrabel said one train had been going from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte while the second train had been travelling from Quievrain to Liege.

The accident led to the cancellation of services between Brussels and Tournai or Mons. And Eurostar said its Brussels trains, including those to and from the UK, were cancelled until further notice.

Other high-speed trains between Paris and Brussels have also been cancelled.

In 2001, eight people were killed and 12 were injured in a head-on collision between commuter trains outside Brussels. It was thought that language difficulties between a Flemish-speaking signalman and a French-speaking colleague were a factor in that crash.

Another accident in 2008 left more than 40 people injured when a passenger train travelling in the wrong direction hit a goods train in central Belgium, AFP news agency said.



SEE ALSO
Eyewitness: Belgian train crash
15 Feb 10 |  Europe
In pictures: Belgian train crash
15 Feb 10 |  Europe
Europe's history of rail disasters
15 Feb 10 |  Europe
Belgium country profile
05 Dec 11 |  Country profiles



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