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Belgians watched grimly as the rising death toll from Monday’s rush-hour train collision seemed certain to make the crash the country’s most deadly rail disaster since World War II.
Seven hours after the accident, the official fatality count was at 12, but railroad and local government officials were saying that up to 25 may have lost their lives, with dozens more injured.
The two packed regional commuter trains crashed close to 8.30 a.m. at the station of Halle, a city of 35,000, located about 20 kilometers southwest of Brussels.
Many of the passengers on both trains were able to walk away, but there was complete devastation in the front carriages of both. Victims remained trapped inside hours after the crash as rescue services working in freezing temperatures struggled to cut them free from the tangle of twisted metal.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, witnesses said a train pulling out of the station was picking up speed when it smashed into the first two carriages of the second train. Both appeared to be on convergent tracks and there was speculation the driver of one of the trains had ignored a stop signal. The area was under several centimeters of snow, but experts said weather was unlikely to have been a factor in the accident.
Halle is on the route taken by the high-speed trains linking Brussels to London and Paris and services to both cities were halted causing widespread disruption.
Prime Minister Yves Leterme cut short a visit to Kosovo to visit the site of the crash along with King Albert II. The crash came on the first day of the country’s carnival school holidays, so officials said there were mercifully fewer children than normal on the trains.
According to the national news agency, Belgium’s worst rail accident before Monday’s crash came in December 1954, when 20 people died when a train carrying German soccer supporters derailed.