Polish train crash leaves 16 dead

 

Two trains collided head-on in southern Poland last night, killing 16 people and injuring at least 60, in the worst rail disaster in the country in over 20 years.

The two trains carrying an estimated 350 passengers were travelling at high speed on the same track when they crashed in a rural area near the town of Szczechociny.

Andrzej Pawlowski, a member of the board of the state railway company PKP, said one of the trains, which was travelling south from Warsaw to Krakow, should not have been on the track. The other train was heading from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw.

It was not immediately clear how the southbound train ended up on the wrong track.

Prime minister Donald Tusk called the crash the “most tragic train catastrophe” in Poland in recent years after visiting the site early today.  He said it was too early to speculate about the cause of the collision, but added that human error could not be ruled out.

"After the rescue operation is over, I will take a decision about national mourning because it took place at the border of three provinces and the victims were from all over Poland," said president Bronislaw Komorowski, who visited the scene today.

Polish media broadcast images of white and green train carriages that were twisted and appeared to be knocked off the tracks.

“Everything indicates that this is one of the most serious railway catastrophes of recent years in our country,” transport minister Slawomir Nowak told TVN24. “There are people who have died, there are many injured people.”

Rescuers said they had pulled 14 bodies from the twisted wreckage. One body found by sniffer dogs inside a mangled train car remained trapped and could only be removed with the help of heavy equipment.

More than 350 firefighters rushed to the scene, but had to carry their equipment by hand because the trains collided in the middle of a field crossed only by the train tracks.

The fate of the two drivers was not immediately known as the authorities were still identifying the dead bodies.

"There was no braking, only the crash, and the lights went out, people were screaming," passenger Dariusz Wisniewski told a local television station. "When we got out we saw bodies and wounded all over, as well as the twisted wreckage. I had never seen anything like it."

Agencies