By Calvin Palmer
A train crash in Belgium this morning has killed at least 18 people. A commuter train ran through a red signal and crashed head on into an inter-city express train.
The force of the collision smashed one train deep into the front of the other, tearing back the metal sides and “totally destroying” one carriage.
Eighteen people, 15 men and three women, were confirmed dead as emergency services continued to take bodies out of the wreckage of three carriages.
More than 125 people were treated for minor injuries and 60 people were taken to hospital, 10 with serious injuries.
The trains, carrying a total of about 300 passengers, collided in light snow near the suburban station at Buizingen about 9 miles from Brussels around 8:30 a.m. local time.
The impact peeled away the front of one leading train carriage and threw at least one other across the tracks, littering the rails with bodies.
The fate of the two drivers was not immediately known, and officials said they were having difficulty identifying some of the victims.
Patricia Lallemand, 40, was travelling with her husband Christian Wampach, 47, in the third carriage of the Mons-Liege express. “There was a big bang, a violent collision with no braking. And, then there was chaos,” she said.
“In our coach the injuries were light, with people wounded in the lower legs and head. When we left the train, we could see the wreckage of the coaches in front of us. I could see many seriously injured and one legless corpse thrown to the side of the track.”
“It was a nightmare,” said Wampach. “We were thrown about for about 15 seconds. It was like an earthquake. I think all the dead were in the first car. It is lucky that it is holidays this week because usually the trains are much more crowded and there are children travelling to school.”
Sebastien Duckers, 23, a passenger on the commuter train, said: “Suddenly there was a loud bang and I was thrown forward and hit my head on the seat in front of me. Everyone was frightened and there was a lot of crying and screaming.
“In the other cars, the glass was broken, some doors were torn off and many people were crying for help. I saw a dismembered body and another person partially trapped underneath one of the carriages.”
Officials said driver error and a missed red light were most likely to be responsible for the collision between the commuter train, travelling from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte, and the Mons-Quiévrain to Liege express, which was running 10 minutes late.
Chief executive of SNCB, Belgium’s national state-owned railway, Marc Descheemaecker said “both drivers were probably lost” in the crash.
“It is a very sad and dark day for SNCB,” he said. “We have lost several colleagues and people on these trains. Our thoughts are with getting people out of wreckage, the victims and their families right now. There will be a full analysis by the authorities of the causes of this sad accident.”
Eurostar canceled its service from London to Brussels for today and advised passengers that it would likely remain suspended tomorrow.
Thalys, the high-speed train operator, has also suspended its service from Paris to the Netherlands and Germany for two days.