Argentina train crash kills 49 and injures over 600

Thu, Feb 23, 2012, 00:00

BUENOS AIRES – A packed commuter train ploughed into the buffers at a station in the city during yesterday’s morning rush hour, killing 49 and injuring more than 600 in Argentina’s worst rail collision in more than 30 years, officials said.

Passengers told of chaos and panic as the impact of the collision propelled the second train car into the first carriage, trapping dozens of people as others looked on from the busy platforms at the central Once station.

Officials said faulty brakes were suspected of causing the accident.

“All of a sudden we felt an explosion and we literally flew through the air . . . there were lots of people thrown to the floor, injured, bloodied,” a passenger wearing a neckbrace who identified himself as Fabio told local TV.

“The train was incrusted inside the other . . . the seats were gone, they disappeared and people were jumping out the window,” said the young man.

More than 800 people were aboard the train, reported state news agency Telam.

A police captain said 49 people had been killed, including one child. Most of the damage was inflicted in the first two cars of the train.

Emergency health service officials estimated that more than 550 people were taken to the hospital. Most of the dead and severely hurt were in the first two carriages, according to eyewitnesses.

Emergency workers rescued some of the victims after cutting the roof off a carriage, while helicopters and ambulances carried away others.

“The train entered the Once station at 26km/h . . . we suppose there was some flaw in the brakes,” transport secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi was quoted by Telam as saying. “This caused the train to fold up on itself.”

Some 10 million passengers travel every month on the Sarmiento line, which links Buenos Aires to the city’s western suburbs.

Argentina’s dilapidated and overcrowded rail services, run by private companies and heavily subsidised by the state, are plagued by accidents and delays.

“This is the responsibility of a company that is known for insufficient maintenance and . . . improvisation,” said Edgardo Reinoso, a train workers’ trade union representative. “On the other hand, there is also the lack of controls on the part of state bodies, including the national commission for transportation regulation and the transport secretariat.”

In September, two commuter trains crashed into a city bus, killing 11 people, and one year ago, four people died during another train accident.

The worst accidents in Argentine history include a 1970 crash that killed more than 230 people and another in 1978, in which about 55 died, local media said.

Argentina’s once extensive rail network was largely dismantled during the privatisations of the 1990s. President Cristina Fernandez has touted projects to revive train lines connecting Argentina to neighbouring Uruguay and Chile. – (Reuters, Bloomberg)