A high-speed passenger train derailed in northern Italy before dawn Thursday, killing two railway workers and injuring 28 other people as its engine broke off and careened into a work vehicle on a adjacent track. Authorities are looking into human error linked to track maintenance work as a possible cause.
The state railway Freccia Rossa train went off the rails in the Italian countryside about 5:30 a.m. local time while travelling at nearly 300 kilometres per hour, Civil Protection chief Angelo Borrelli told state radio.
Maintenance work had been carried out on a nearby track switching area less than two hours before the derailment, Prosecutor Domenico Chiaro told reporters at a news conference.
The train that derailed was the first train to pass through the area after the work was done and “the switch was placed in a position it shouldn’t have been,” he said.
“We’re looking into the hypothesis of human error that could be linked to the maintenance work,” as a possible cause for the accident, Chiaro said, stressing that no conclusions had been reached yet.
Sabotage or a terror attack have been ruled out, the prosecutor said, and investigators have recovered the train’s black box recording.
Chairo said the train “rammed a series of obstacles” before finally stopping. They included a nearby building used for storing railway equipment and tools. The engine car ended its fatal trajectory flipped around 180 degrees.
State railways said the two fatalities were train engineers. Prefect Marcello Cardona said another railroad worker, part of the cleaning staff, was seriously injured. One passenger was seriously injured and 26 other passengers suffered less-serious injuries, authorities said.
Scattered passengers on early morning commute
Authorities said the crash occurred about 20 minutes after the train had left Milan heading south toward Bologna.
Cardona said it was fortunate that, due to the hour, the train wasn’t crowded. Police said it had about 30 passengers. Only one passenger was in the first car — a business-class car that ended up on its side — and a couple of passengers each were in the next few cars. The train passenger cars further back remained upright.
One passenger, an unidentified man interviewed by state TV, likened the moment of the crash to being on a roller-coaster for 20 seconds.
Rescuers had to help some passengers out of the train.
The passenger train run is part of a popular high-speed rail service known as Freccia Rossa, or the Red Arrow service, which links Italy’s north and south and is used by business people and tourists as well as locals.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella in a condolence message lamented the deaths. He urged a swift investigation to determine the derailment’s cause “to guarantee the right of citizens to safety on transport.”
In other recent derailments near Milan, three people were killed and more than 100 injured when a regional train derailed on another line in January 2018.