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18 die in Belgian rail horror

Belgium suffered its worst train crash for more than half-a-century yesterday when two commuter trains collided head-on south-west of Brussels.

The death toll was estimated last night to be at least 18 — the worst in a Belgian rail accident since 1954.

Although a senior regional official said that one of the trains had passed a red light, there were also reports that an electrical fault had caused a signalling error.

Over 100 people were injured — some severely — when the two trains smashed into each other in light snow near the station at Buizingen, near Halle, 15 miles outside Brussels, at around 8.30am. Both trains' leading carriages were smashed apart by the impact, which left dead and maimed passengers lying beside the tracks.

So extensive was the wreckage that all train services on the line as well as nearby lines — including the Eurostar to and from London and Thalys services from Paris — were cancelled for the day.

Pierre Quertenmont (40), a passenger in one of the trains, said: “I could see two bodies beside the track as well as several limbs. There were injured people, blood everywhere. It was like a vision of the Apocalypse, so much so that I had to stop looking.”

Between 250 and 300 passengers were aboard the two rush-hour trains as they crashed.

Lode de Witte, the governor of the Flemish Brabant region which includes Halle, said the driver of a regional train pulling into the town missed a red light and ran into a train leaving the station, which was 10 minutes late.

But Belgian television also reported that there had been an electrical failure in the area which may have caused a signalling malfunction allowing the two trains to approach each other on the same track. Belgian national railways, SNCB, refused to comment until railway and judicial investigations had been completed.

The force of the impact smashed one train deep into the front carriage of the other. Other carriages reared high into the air, bringing down power lines.

At least 18 men and three women were killed, and many more were seriously injured.

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