Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Inquest into Australian train disaster under way

AFP , KERANG, AUSTRALIA

Rail crossing lights continue to flash red yesterday after a fully laden truck slammed at high speed into a train outside Kerang, some 290km north of Melbourne.

PHOTO: AFP

Investigations began yesterday into what caused Australia's worst train disaster in decades as rescuers went about the gruesome task of recovering bodies from the mangled wreckage.

Rescue crews set up a temporary morgue at the crash site in southern Victoria state, where a fully-laden truck slammed into a passenger train on Tuesday afternoon, killing 11 people.

They spent most of the day working to remove bodies from the carriages, which were ripped open on impact with the semi-trailer, and believe they have now accounted for all of those travelling on the Melbourne-bound train.

Their work was complicated by the extensive damage to the train carriages and the fact that some of the bodies were cut apart.

"There were a lot of people who lost legs and arms, it was just horrible," a German tourist, known only as Helena, told the Seven Network on Tuesday.

Police confirmed late yesterday that 11 people had died in the accident near the small town of Kerang, including a 13-year-old boy and a 32-year-old man from New Zealand, and that 23 others were injured.

"There was a person who died in a Melbourne hospital and 10 bodies were recovered at the wreck site," police spokesman Senior Constable Wayne Wilson said.

The truck driver survived the accident and is being interviewed by police.

Disaster worker Shane Leerson said volunteers were helping to remove the bodies from the two rail carriages hit by the truck.

"We've got to remove a lot of the twisted metal and steel and recover the deceased that are still inside the carriage," he said.

"Just the carnage there on the rail was horrific. I've never seen anything like it before up here, at all," Leerson said.

Witnesses described the site of the collision on the rural Victorian rail crossing as "like a war scene."

"It was like someone had dropped a bomb next to the train," Brian Frichot said.

"Where the truck had hit it, it just ripped the side clean out of it, torn all the seats away from the floor, packed it all back into the corner," he said.

"It's pretty horrific, there were bits and pieces of luggage, glass and parts of the train, items of clothing, telephones ringing everywhere," Frichot said.

Victorian state Premier Steve Bracks pledged a thorough investigation into the tragedy but said it seemed unlikely the crash could have been prevented.

"It's hard to know what you can do. Obviously we don't know whether a truck careering into a train would have been stopped by anything at all," he said.

Bracks said the damage to the train, which was on its way from Swan Hill to Australia's second largest city when the accident occurred, was horrific.

"It was catastrophic, the mangling of the three carriage set, particularly the middle carriage, which had most of the people ... the truck, which was hardly recognisable," he said.

"It's hard to imagine how someone could have survived driving that truck," Bracks said.

Assistant police commissioner Noel Ashby said the accident had shaken "an ordinary place where ordinary people are going about their business" and the investigation would be thorough.

"It will be comprehensive, it will be searching and we will find out what happened," he said.

The accident has raised questions about the safety of thousands of rail crossings in the country, most of which do not have boom gates.

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