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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 29, 2012
Politics & Society
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Head-On Train Crash
March 29, 2012   
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Two passenger trains collided head-on in southern Poland March 3, killing 16 people and leaving 58 injured. It was the worst rail crash in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.

The two trains, carrying around 350 passengers in total, collided near Szczekociny, Silesia province. Both locomotives were destroyed and all four drivers were killed.

One of the trains, operated by PKP Intercity, was on its way from the southeastern city of Przemy¶l to Warsaw, when the second, an Interregio express from Warsaw to Cracow, drove onto its track. All 11 cars from both trains were derailed.

The rescue operation took 12 hours and involved 450 firefighters, 100 policemen, 35 ambulances, two air ambulance helicopters and one maintenance train. Residents of nearby villages rushed to the scene in the minutes following the crash, helping passengers trapped inside the carriages and offering first aid to the injured.

An investigation into the accident is being carried out by a special commission and may take several months. Media reports have suggested that the crash may have been caused by a rail traffic controller who directed the two trains onto the same track by mistake. After the disaster, the controller was taken to a psychiatric clinic with a suspected nervous breakdown. He may spend several weeks there.

Transport Minister Sławomir Nowak said that the section of track where the accident happened was modernized last year, adding that nearby rail traffic control centers in Starzyny and Sprowo are fitted with modern traffic monitoring equipment. The speed limit on the section is 120 kilometers per hour, Nowak added. The Intercity train was traveling at 95 kph and the other one at around 60 kph.

President Bronisław Komorowski declared a two-day period of national mourning March 5 and 6. According to the European Railway Agency, Poland has the most dangerous railroads in the EU and one in six rail accidents in EU member states happens in Poland. A report by the agency shows that there were 449 rail accidents in Poland in 2010. Germany was second with 297 accidents followed by Romania with 271. France had 15 collisions between trains in 2010, the most in the EU.

Out of the total of 1,265 fatal rail accidents in the EU in 2010, 283 happened in Poland. Poland also topped the statistics in terms of the number of pedestrians hit by a train, 341, and in terms of accidents on railway crossings, 86.
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