Monday morning rush hour train travellers in Belgium have found themselves at the centre of the country’s worst rail disaster for decades.
Eighteen commuters — 15 of them men and 3 women — were killed when two services ploughed into each other head on.
Such was the force of the impact, the two front sections speared into the air, bringing high voltage cables down onto the wreckage.
It happened just outside Halle station, about 15 kilometres from Brussels. A third train ploughed into the wreckage.
One survivor said: “I was in the second class carriage and almost all of the people in front of me died. There were many dead and I was lucky. I was really lucky. I was next to the dead. God saved me.”
A passenger in the third train said: “We came along the side and basically we hit one of the carriages and then all the cables from above, they came onto our train.”
The train operator SNCB said there were between 250 and 300 passengers on board when the two trains collided in snowy conditions at 8.30 in the morning.
One resident living opposite the crash scene said: “I was about to set off for work when suddenly I heard this loud noise. I came out into the garden and saw there had been a collision. I was shocked at first. I went to give first aid, warm blankets and chairs so people could sit down.”
The governor of the province where the disaster happened said a local service from Leuven had passed a red stop signal, ploughing into an express bound for Liege that was running ten minutes late.
The train operator has merely said it is too early to speculate on the cause.
More than a hundred people were injured, eleven of them seriously. Many of the wounded remained trapped in the wreckage several hours while rescue teams struggled to cut them free.
Local rail services in the region have been cancelled, and high speed intercity links between Brussels, Paris and London have been suspended until further notice.
Belgium suffers worst rail disaster for decades