Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Belgian rail tragedy: untangling fact from assumption

Very few clear facts have so far emerged from news reports about the fatal collision between two trains near Brussels on Monday (15 February)

Caution is needed. Rail crash investigations often take a long time before unearthing any clear information let alone causes. As so often happens with such tragedies, the media report half-truths, assumptions and rumours as if they were confirmed facts.

For instance, TV bulletins and newspapers reported yesterday that the crash was 'head-on'. The day after the crash The Times was still running online reports of a 'head-on collision' (16 February). However, the Belgian train company SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges) and track operator Infrabel had stated the trains had collided 'laterally', and not 'head on' as reported. 

It's known that at least 18 people have so far died. Some people are still missing. Dozens were injured, some very seriously. 

One train was a Leuven-Braine-le-Comte service and the other was travelling from Quievrain to Liege. It's being reported that the Leuven train driver survived whilst the driver of the other train was killed.

Unconfirmed news reports referred to two 'black box' data recorders that could shed light on possible causes. An SNCB official is also reported as saying one of the trains did not have a safety mechanism designed to slow or halt trains automatically at a red signal.

Photo: AFP for BBC News

Paul Coleman, London, February 2010

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