Deadly Belgium train crash investigation begins

Rail travel to and from Brussels remains severely disrupted as an inquiry into a Belgian commuter train crash which killed at least 18 people gets under way.

Some estimates have put the death toll from Monday's head-on smash at 25, with more than 100 people injured.

The official death count of 18 looks set to rise as efforts to disentangle the two trains continue amidst fears that more bodies will be found in the wreckage.

The collision at Halle, 15km south of the Belgian capital, happened during morning rush-hour in icy conditions after a night of light snow fall, but the investigation is focused on human error - with the governor of the region, Lodewijk De Witte, suggesting one train had missed a red signal. But the Belgian track operator said officials were keeping an open mind about why two commuter trains on regular runs could have been travelling in opposite directions on the same track.

National Railways spokesman Jochen Goovaerts said investigators will examine the black boxes of the two trains to try to determine whether mechanical failure, human error, freezing weather or another factor was primarily responsible for the crash near a suburban station nine miles south of Brussels.

The black boxes, recording all the technical data of the journeys, should reveal how fast the trains were moving when they collided, said Mr Goovaerts.

The force of the impact sent the lead carriages of each train rearing up into the sky, bringing down power lines and derailing a third train. The dead were mostly in the lead carriages of the two trains, though one driver was rescued suffering from serious injuries. Officials said they were having difficulty identifying some of the victims.

Workmen using cutting gear spent hours freeing the injured, and efforts were continuing to disentangle the two trains and restore full power supplies.

The accident has halted Eurostar services between Brussels and Britain and all trains from Brussels to France, including the high-speed Thalys, which also runs to the Netherlands and Germany.

Belgian railway line operator Infrabel said Thalys trains were now travelling to Cologne and that Eurostar trains were running between London and Lille in France, with passengers able to take buses within Belgium.

Nevertheless both Eurostar and Thalys were advising passengers to cancel or postpone their travel.

Infrabel said it was not clear when services would fully return to normal. Emergency services had searched all the carriages, but had still not determined whether there were further victims underneath. Only then would Infrabel be able to determine the degree of damage to overhead power lines.

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