Train drivers in Belgium have walked out of work as part of a wildcat strike, claiming a deterioration in working conditions could lead to another disaster like yesterday’s crash near Brussels.
The investigation is now focusing on an emergency system, which automatically triggers a train’s brakes if it passes a red stop signal.
Luc Lallemand, CEO of the network operator Infrabel, told Belgian TV: “The system won’t be completely installed until 2013. The accident happened on a section of track that was fitted with the auto-brake system. One of the trains was equipped, the other wasn’t.”
His interviewer asked: “So if the train had been fitted with this equipment the accident could have been avoided?”
“Yes,” Lallemand replied.
At least 18 people are known to have died when a local service and an express train ploughed into each other head on in yesterday morning’s rush hour. Around a hundred passengers were injured.
The governor of the province where the crash happened said the local train jumped a red stop signal.
A passenger who made it into Brussels said: “What’s panicking us a bit is that, because of the strike, we’re not sure if we’ll be sleeping in Brussels tonight or if we’re going to get home. We understand that they’re striking for our safety and theirs, but it’s deplorable that it takes people to die before things change. But that’s Belgium for you unfortunately.”
The strike has diminished an already reduced Belgian rail service caused by disaster. The crash forced the suspension of local and regional services that would have passed through the crash scene.
High-speed links between Brussels, Paris and London are also on hold for a second day running.