Driver jumped out of train before disaster
Rail workers stage strike over safety standards
Published 17/02/2010 | 05:00
THE driver of the Belgian commuter train that missed a red light and crashed into an oncoming express train, killing 18 people, was found sobbing by rescuers after he jumped from his cabin just before impact.
The 32-year-old, named only as Robin, frantically sounded his locomotive's whistle and hit the brake before he scrambled away from his cab down the train's corridor.
Luciaan Spiessens, a retired station manager at Buizingen, a suburban station outside Brussels where the crash happened in Monday's rush hour, described the driver's desperate efforts to avert the disaster.
Mr Spiessens was a passenger in the first carriage of the commuter train travelling from Leuven, which struck the Mons to Liege express. "To start with, the driver hit the claxon hard. A fraction of a second later he used the emergency brake, then the driver jumped from his cabin to the carriage aisle," he told a newspaper.
"When I was freed a little while later, I saw the driver standing outside the train. He was crying, probably because he then began to fully realise what had happened."
The driver is in hospital. "He is badly hurt but his life is not in danger," said one of his colleagues. "The grapevine says he has suffered multiple fractures."
Rescuers resumed the search of the wreckage yesterday. Officials said, more bodies were expected to be found. At least, one man remained missing. Eighteen bodies -- 15 men and three women -- have so far been recovered and 20 people remain seriously ill in hospital.
Eurostar services between London and Brussels were suspended for a second day as the investigation and recovery operation continued. The train operator warned travellers that disruption would continue today.
A wildcat strike led by colleagues of the surviving driver started yesterday after staff walked out in the south of Belgium in protest over the failure by SNCB -- the state-owned railway -- to install automatic braking equipment on all trains after eight people died in a similar head-on collision in Pecrot in 2001. Search teams yesterday located one black box from the wreckage around the two trains. 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. Provincial officials raised the number of injured from 95 to 171 people, some seriously hurt.
European Commission officials said the rail track near the Buizingen station where the crash took place, nine miles south of Brussels, lacked the latest automatic braking system designed to stop trains after they pass through a red signal.
Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, had said earlier that one train apparently did not heed a red signal as the second train -- leaving 10 minutes late from Buizingen -- moved on to the track of the oncoming train. (©Daily Telegraph, London).