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Rush-hour crash train 'sped past a red light'

Experts began an investigation into the Belgian rush-hour train crash today as rescuers continued their search for victims.

A commuter train sped through a red signal and slammed into an oncoming train as it left a suburban Brussels station yesterday, killing at least 18 people and disrupting rail traffic in northern Europe.

Investigations into one the worst accidents on the Belgian rails were likely to focus on whether human error was responsible or if it could have been influenced by the persistently freezing temperatures in the European capital.

Officials said 80 people were injured, 20 of them seriously in yesterday's crash. The death toll -- 15 men and three women -- was not considered final.

The fate of the two drivers was not immediately known and officials said they were having difficulty identifying some of the victims.

The trains, carrying a total of about 300 passengers, collided in light snow just outside of the station at Buizingen about nine miles from Brussels at around 8.30am.

The impact peeled away the front of one train carriage and threw at least one other off the tracks, severing the limbs of some passengers, witnesses and officials said.

One engine was thrust high into the air and snapped overhead power lines.

"When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated," said Patricia Lallemand, 40, who was in a middle car of one train and was unhurt.

Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, told reporters one train "apparently did not heed a stop light".

One of the front carriages appeared to have careened across the tracks, demolishing a small maintenance shed next to the rail line..

King Baudouin and Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who cancelled a trip to Kosovo moments after landing in Pristina, visited the crash site.

Belgian National Railways spokesman Jochen Goovaerts said his agency was awaiting the outcome of the investigation before discussing the cause.

It was the first serious Belgian train accident since March 2001, when eight people died when a crowded train smashed into an empty train driving on the wrong tracks.

hnews@herald.ie


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