Two commuter trains collided head-on at rush-hour in a Brussels suburb today, killing as many as 25 people, Belgian rail officials said.
Belgian National Railways told the VRT radio network that 25 people had died but the suburb’s mayor said the death toll was 20. Lodewijk De Witte, governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, told VRT that 10 people were killed.
The trains collided in light snow just outside the station at Buizingen at around 8.30am (7.30am Irish Time).
The force of the collision smashed one train deep into the front of the other, peeling back the metal sides. The trains tipped high into the air and broke overhead power lines.
“It was a nightmare,” Christian Wampach, 47, who was in the third car of a Brussels-bound train, told the Associated Press after his head was bandaged at a sports complex where people with less serious injuries were treated.
“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,” he said.
Photographs from the scene showed rescuers pulling the wounded from a car that appeared to have tipped on to its side. Other emergency officials rushed victims on stretchers along the tracks.
“When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks,” said Patricia Lallemand, 40, who was in the same car as Mr Wampach, and was uninjured.
“The most recent information we have is that 20 people died,” town mayor Dirk Pieters told VRT. “I base this on what the police and firefighters tell me.”
There was no immediate word on the number of injured.
Mr Pieters said the seriously hurt were taken to hospitals and the lightly injured were moved to a Buizingen sports complex.
The crash caused massive damage to overhead power lines.
Eurostar reported on its website that its high-speed train service in and out of Brussels had been suspended and could remain shut all day.
The international high-speed network Thalys, which links major cities in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, temporarily halted all services because its trains use the same rails as commuter lines near Hal, said Patricia Baars, a company spokeswoman.
At least four Thalys trains were stopped en route, and the railway operator deployed staff to stations where they were re-routed to provide assistance to travellers on board, she said.
“No (Thalys) train is moving for the moment ... it’s very hard to know today when services will resume,” she said. “It appears this was a very severe accident.”
Thalys has at least 25 round-trip trains operating between Paris and Brussels each day, plus seven linking Brussels and Amsterdam and six from Belgium to Cologne, Germany.
There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash.
It was the most serious Belgian train accident since March 28, 2001, when eight people died when a crowded train ploughed into an empty train driving on the wrong tracks.