One train driver survived the head-on crash that killed at least 18 people outside of Brussels and will be questioned as soon as his serious injuries permit it, railway officials said today as the search resumed for more victims.
The Eurostar and Thalys high-speed trains from London and Paris to Brussels were suspended for a second day today and other train conductors held a wildcat strike that paralysed train travel across southern Belgium.
Rescue workers picked through the wreckage of the two commuter trains that collided on Monday in one of the deadliest rail accidents in Belgian history. In addition to the deaths, rail officials said 95 people were injured, some seriously.
National Railways spokesman Jochen Goovaerts said investigators will examine the black boxes of the two trains to try to determine whether mechanical failure, human error, freezing weather or another factor was primarily responsible for the crash near a suburban station nine miles south of Brussels.
The black boxes, recording all the technical data of the journeys, should reveal how fast the trains were moving when they collided, said Mr Goovaerts.
“There are a lot of possible explanations to this tragedy,” he told the Associated Press. “We don’t want to put the blame where it doesn’t belong.”
Police are also to question the engineer of one of the commuter trains, who was badly injured in the crash.
The accident scene was sealed off today with police tape. One passenger car from each train was tipped on to its side, and it was unknown whether more bodies were trapped underneath.
Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, told reporters yesterday that one train apparently did not heed a red signal, as the second train – leaving 10 minutes late from the station at Buizingen – moved on to the track of the oncoming train.
Mr Goovaerts said the survivor was driving the train approaching the station.
Infrabel, the rail management company, said its technical teams would need three days to inspect six rail lines once the wreckage is removed, meaning train traffic was likely to remain disrupted in the capital for the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, a wildcat strike by train conductors paralysed other rail traffic during the morning rush- hour today across southern Belgium.
Infrabel called for the installation of automatic braking systems on all trains. Officials said these would have prevented the accident by immediately activating the brakes on the train that allegedly ran the red light at the entrance to the station.
The collision appeared to be the country’s worst train crash since 1954, when a collision near Leuven killed 20 German football fans and seriously injured 40 others.
The worst recent crash in Europe occurred near the German town of Eschede in 1998 when around 100 people were killed when a cracked wheel hurled a train off the tracks.
Belgium is ranked 12th in the European Union in terms of rail safety, according to EU statistics. Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia head the list of nations with the most accidents on the continent.