February 16, 2010 Passenger Trains Collide Head-On in Belgium By STEPHEN CASTLE and NICOLA CLARK BRUSSELS A head-on collision between two trains outside of the Belgian capital during the morning rush hour on Monday left an unknown number of passengers dead and injured, local news accounts said. Belgian media reported that the crash at Buizingen, near Halle, about 10 miles southwest of Brussels, had left at least 11 people dead and 55 injured, citing Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant. Officials of the Belgian National Railways told VRT radio that the death toll could be as high as 25. Police officials at Halle were unable to confirm any of those figures, saying that they were concentrating on evacuating the area and dealing with injured passengers. The cause of the accident, which happened around 8:30 a.m. local time, was not immediately clear, and there was no confirmation of reports that a third train had become involved in the pile-up. Mr. De Witte told reporters on the scene that one of the trains appeared to have disregarded a stop signal. The accident forced the international high-speed rail operators Eurostar and Thalys to suspend most of their services in and out of Brussels. Both companies urged travelers to avoid travel if possible Monday and offered to exchange or refund tickets free of charge. Eurostar said its direct service between Paris and London, which does not pass through Brussels, was unaffected by the accident. The company said it was operating a limited high-speed service between London and Lille, in northern France, and providing emergency shuttle bus connections from there to Brussels, a journey of roughly 90 minutes. Belgiums national railway was also accepting Eurostar tickets on its hourly train service between Lille and Brussels, Eurostar said. Photos and amateur video from the scene indicated the trains collided at relatively high speed. The front cars of both trains were smashed deeply into one another, while several cars were forced high enough into the air to sever overhead power lines. The images showed rescuers pulling the wounded from a car that had rolled onto its side. Several victims were placed on stretchers along the tracks. It was a nightmare, Christian Wampach, 47, told The Associated Press after medical workers bandaged his head at a sports complex where the less seriously injured were treated. We were thrown about for about 15 seconds. There were a number of people injured in my car but I think all the dead were in the first car, said Mr. Wampach, who said he was in the third car of the Brussels-bound train. When we came out, we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated, Patricia Lallemand, 40, who was in the same car as Mr. Wampach, told the AP. Sebastien Duckers was in the train traveling from Mons, a city 42 miles south of Brussels, when the tragedy happened. We were rolling along smoothly when suddenly there was a big bang, like when you go on the bumper cars but a lot more powerful, Mr. Duckers said in an interview posted on the Web site of La Libre, a Belgian newspaper. Mr. Duckers said he was thrown from his seat by the impact, but was not badly hurt. As soon as the train came to a halt, everyone started shouting and crying. We wondered what had happened. Justin Stares contributed reporting from Brussels; Nicola Clark reported from Paris.