, BRUSSELS, Feb 15 – Two packed commuter trains had a head-on collision on snow covered tracks outside Brussels on Monday killing some 20 people and injuring many more, officials said.
The impact forced the two locomotives up into the air and left at least one carriage on its side. Doctors carried out amputations at the scene in the suburban town of Halle, a government official said.
Blood-stained wounded were carried on stretchers along the tracks through the snow to get to ambulances.
The death tolls varied. Halle mayor Dirk Pieters told Belgian media there are "at least 20 dead." Brussels investigating magistrate Jos Colpin putting the toll at between eight and 20 dead.
"All the emergency services are there. The most seriously injured are being treated at the scene before being taken to hospital," Pieters added.
The two trains hit each other at about 0730 GMT near Halle, about 15 kilometres southwest of Brussels in Dutch-speaking Flanders.
The Flemish television channel VTM said one of the trains may have ignored a stop signal.
Many of the victims were found in a first-class carriage, according to witnesses.
The Belgian government\’s secretary of state for mobility, Etienne Schouppe, told the RTBF broadcaster there were many serious injuries in the wreckage who needed amputations.
"The collision was brutal," one unnamed passenger was quoted as saying by the RTL television news website. "Wagons have been turned over, lots of people are in shock."
An emergency centre was set up at a nearby sports centre and a telephone hotline opened.
Neither the national rail company SNCB nor the track operator Infrabel were able to confirm the toll.
One train was going from Quievrain to Liege and the other from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte, according to Infrabel.
The accident caused major rail traffic disruption.
Thalys and Eurostar high-speed train services in and out of Brussels are seriously disrupted, the two operators said.
Thalys advised passengers to change their travel plans.
Eurostar warned that "it is possible that services remain suspended all day."
In 2008, more than 40 people were injured when a passenger train travelling in the wrong direction struck a freight train at Hermalle-sous-Huy in central Belgium.
In March 2001, two passenger trains crashed head-on at Pecrot to the east of Brussels, killing eight people including both drivers, and injuring 12.
That crash was blamed on human error, including that staff at two Belgian stations did not speak a common language.
The latest catastrophe for Belgium follows the collapse last month of an apartment bock in the eastern Belgian city of Liege, where 14 dead were pulled out of the rubble.