A passenger train from Luxembourg ploughed into a goods train in a head-on collision in northeast France yesterday, killing 12 people and injuring more than 20, railway officials said.
The crash took place late morning at the village of Zoufftgen, 1.6km south of the Luxembourg border, on a section of track that was undergoing maintenance work.
French state-owned SNCF rail company said nine people on the passenger train died as well as the drivers of both trains and a person working on the track. At least 21 were injured, some seriously.
More than a hundred rescue workers from France and Luxembourg were at the scene by early afternoon, trying to extract the injured from the wreckage, as a helicopter shuttled victims to hospital.
"It's apocalyptic. There's a mess of steel and tangled metal, with wagons up-ended and pointing into the sky," said Bertrand Mertz, vice-president of the Lorraine regional council.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was en route to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, ordered his plane to return to France in order to visit the scene. President Jacques Chirac issued a statement to express his condolences to the bereaved.
The two trains were a double-decker Luxembourg regional express train traveling south to the French city of Nancy, and a freight train heading north into Luxembourg.
"As a result of the work only one track was open instead of two, and trains were supposed to wait their turn to go on it. For reasons that are not clear, these two trains came together head-to-head," an SNCF spokesman said.
Guillaume Pepy, SNCF executive director, said the French freight train was the first onto the section of track, and that its driver had not broken a red light.
Earlier Mertz told France 3 television that railway signalers in Luxembourg were to blame.
France's last serious rail accident was in 2002 when 12 died in a fire on a night train near Nancy.