Three dead in Belgium train crash

Did lightning make passenger train slam into freight train near Liege?

Officials stand near the wreckage of a passenger train on June 6, 2016 after it crashed into the back of a freight train in Saint-Georges-Sur-Meuse,eastern Belgium. Francois Lenoir / Reuters
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BRUSSELS // Lightning and flood damage may have caused a train crash in eastern Belgium which killed three people died and injured at least nine others on Sunday.

The driver of the passenger train was among the dead. Belgian authorities were exploring the possible role of flooding and lightning which has hit western Europe in the last few days.

The passenger train with about 40 passengers on board was travelling at close to 100kph when it collided with the slow-moving freight train at about 11pm at St Georges-Sur-Meuse on the banks of the river Meuse near Liege in north-eastern Belgium.

The violence of the collision caused the two front carriages of the six-car passenger train to derail and topple. A spokesman for Infrabel, the company that oversees Belgium’s rail infrastructure, said the company would investigate reports of lightning striking installations in the accident area 90 minutes before the crash.

Mayor Francis Dejon described how the front carriage had “scrunched back on itself.” He added: “The passenger train is really in a bad way. We’re very lucky there weren’t more victims.”

It took rescuers up to three hours to free people from the wreckage of the train at Hermalle-sous-Huy while travelling between the city of Mouscron and the village of Liers.

Nine people were taken to hospital, some in critical condition and 27 were treated at the scene but, Mr Dejon said, the death toll could rise.

Clearing the track will take several days, said SNCB, Belgium’s national rail operator. The company confirmed lightning had caused signal problems near the site, but that the incident had been resolved with normal service restored.

Heavy rain had also caused flooding on other train lines on Sunday.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel was due to visit the scene with Belgium’s King Philippe.

“All my condolences for the families of the victims ... and a fast recovery to the injured,” Mr Michel said on Twitter.

A crash in 2008 took place almost at the same location, in which 42 people were injured. That incident was later blamed on human error and a power failure.

* Associated Press