Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Italian train crash probe looking into alert system


Trees frame the site where two passenger trains collided in the middle of an olive grove outside the southern town of Corato, Italy, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

The investigation into the violent head-on train crash in southern Italy that killed more than two dozen people is focusing in particular on the antiquated telephone alert system used to advise station masters of trains running on the single track.

Recovery operations using a giant crane and rescue dogs continued into yesterday to remove the mangled debris of the two commuter trains that slammed into one another just before noon on Tuesday in the neat olive groves of Puglia.

After visiting the crash site, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared it an “absurd” tragedy and vowed to investigate fully.

Union leaders and railway police blamed human error, noting that the particular stretch of track between the towns of Andria and Corato did not have an automatic alert system that would engage if two trains were close by and on the same track. Rather, news reports said, the system relied on station masters phoning one another to advise of a departing train.

“Surely one of the two trains shouldn’t have been there, and surely there was an error. We need to determine the cause of the error,” Railway Police Commander Giancarlo Conticchio said.

Italian Red Cross workers yesterday were shuttling family members to the morgue in Bari to help identify the dead. Coroner Franco Introna told the ANSA news agency that 22 bodies were at the morgue, with five more expected to arrive later from Andria.

Passengers described being thrown forward violently at the moment of impact, and then trying to free themselves from the tangle of metal, body parts and debris in the scorching midday sun.

“I don’t know what happened, it all happened so quickly, I don’t know,” said one woman, who was eight months pregnant. “I saw my mother on the ground, my father and my sister bleeding, I don’t know, I don’t know, even I don’t know.”

One elderly couple described their ordeal to local television station Telesveva. The man, his head covered in gauze, said he was knocked to the ground, while his wife, still barefoot, described how she came across body parts as she freed him.

“I pulled him from under the debris, myself barefoot, from under the debris and metal,” said the woman, who was not identified. “I went to my husband screaming. I pulled him by the legs and feet. I climbed past people in pieces, how sad. There was nothing I could do.”

The trains were operated by a private, Bari-based rail company, Ferrotramviaria.

In a telephone interview with state TV, Ferrotramviaria director general Massimo Nitti said the dynamics of what went wrong are still to be determined, but it is clear “one of the trains wasn’t supposed to be there.”

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