NMBS fined €550,000 for Buizingen rail disaster

Summary

A court has ruled that both train operator NMBS and the company that handles rail infrastructure, Infrabel, are both responsible for the crash in 2010 that left 19 people dead

Too little investment in safety, says judge

Belgian rail operator NMBS and rail infrastructure company Infrabel have each been fined €550,000 for their role in the 2010 Buizingen rail disaster. Nineteen people died and 162 were injured in the crash of 15 February 2010 – Belgium’s worst rail disaster in 50 years.

Two busy commuter trains collided head-on during the morning rush hour on the outskirts of Brussels. An initial investigation found that the driver of the Leuven to Brain-le-Comte stopping service ran a red light, putting the train on a collision course with the Quiévrain to Liège intercity, which was travelling at 70kph and took 600 metres to come to a halt.

A Brussels court ruled this week that, while the driver of the stopping train who ran the red signal was partly responsible, the absence of an automatic braking system and the use of an old locomotive on the train were also major contributing factors. “If Infrabel had invested heavily in safety measures, there would have been no deaths,” said the judge.

The court heard that the driver of the stopping service had been disciplined in the past for running a red signal. But the judge also recognised that the driver’s cab was cramped and that working conditions and visibility were far from ideal.

The court ruled that the driver’s share of the compensation – €37,000 – should be paid by the NMBS. While NMBS must pay its fine in full, Infrabel’s penalty was partly suspended, meaning the rail infrastructure agency must only pay half (€275,000).

Photo: Nineteen people died when commuter trains collided in 2010
©Yves Herman/REUTERS