Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Poland's Euro 2012 rail safety pledge

Poland's government has promised football fans that its rail travel is safe, despite the weekend train crash that killed 16 people.

The assurances come months before millions of fans will enter the country for the Euro 2012 tournament - many of whom will criss-cross the nation by train.

Saturday's crash, Poland's mostly deadly train accident in more than two decades, raised new questions about the safety of a state-run rail network, which has undergone modernisation in recent years.

Poland still has a rail system marked by the legacy of the communist decades, but has been working to upgrade trains and tracks.

The trains collided head-on in a shower of sparks and mangled metal, killing 16 people and injuring dozens more near the southern town of Szczekociny, just north of Krakow. Both trains inexplicably ended up running on the same track.

Polish leaders said it was the worst rail tragedy since 16 people were killed in a 1990 collision near Warsaw.

Some routes today are notorious for being slower than they were even before the Second World War - and the economically dynamic young member of the European Union has been pushing to change this even as it builds skyscrapers, motorways and stadiums.

Several of the projects have been accelerated by the coming Euro 2012 championship, which starts in June.

Transport minister Slawomir Nowak insisted yesterday that train travel was safe and that the government made safety a priority as it improved the system.

The collision happened on a stretch of track that was recently modernised, but officials said it was too early to speak about a cause.

"I really believe that the train system - not only in Poland but all of Europe - is still very safe," Mr Nowak said. He said those who planned to use the trains this summer during Euro 2012 should not worry.

Poland is co-hosting the three-week tournament with Ukraine and games will be held in several Polish and Ukrainian cities, which will force some fans to travel large distances - either by train, plane, bus or car.

President Bronislaw Komorowski called for two days of national mourning today and tomorrow, meaning that flags will fly half-mast at public buildings, and concerts and sporting events will be cancelled. Poland's Roman Catholic bishops also called for prayers for those killed and injured.

An American woman was killed, while other foreigners - Ukrainians, Moldovans and a Czech citizen - were among those taken to hospital.

The US was among several countries to send condolences, with Washington offering assistance.

Sixty people were initially in hospital after the crash, and 51 remained there yesterday, health minister Bartosz Arlukowicz said. Three of them were in a serious condition, while the others had lesser injuries, he said.

The crash turned carriages at the front of each train into heaps of mangled metal and toppled others on their sides. A woman living in a house nearby said she was standing at her window when the two trains collided, creating a "terrible, terrible noise - like a bomb going off".

"So I ran out of the house, and on one side I saw train lights and one the other side I saw train lights, and in the middle sparks," Anna Sap said.

"People from the train starting crying, 'Help, help!' So we and the neighbours ran to them. Some of them smashed windows to let them out."

Her husband Grzegorz said passengers began emerging from the train "with hand luggage and in shock. They had no idea where they were".

An unnamed passenger interviewed on the all-news station TVN24 said: "I hit the person in front of me. The lights went out. Everything flew.

"We flew over the compartment like bags. We could hear screams. We prayed."

One train was travelling from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw in the north, while the other - an Intercity train travelling at 60mph on the wrong track - was heading south from Warsaw to Krakow.

The country's most deadly post-war train disaster was in 1980, when 65 people were killed when a freight train collided with a passenger train near Otloczyn.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph