Rome underground crash, 1 dead
Published on 18/10/2006
Rome, October 17 -

At least one person was killed and some 150 injured on Tuesday morning when two trains on Rome's underground rail system collided .

The incident took place at around 9.30 a.m. local time at the Piazza Vittorio underground station near Rome's main train station .

Firemen said a stationary train at the stop was hit from behind by another train travelling on the same line .

The victim was a 30-year-old Italian woman who lived outside Rome but commuted in for work. Around 60 of the injured were in a serious condition and at least five were said to be critical, including the driver of the moving train who was initially reported to have died .

Most of the other injured were bruised and shocked .

Many of the passengers were treated on the spot as they emerged from the station exits. Others were ferried to 11 hospitals in and around Rome in ambulances and buses .

According to some reports, a failure at the central signalling system of the so-called Metro network was to blame for the crash. The moving train was believed to have been given the green light to proceed from the station prior to Piazza Vittorio .

"At that point, the crash was inevitable and the impact very strong. The first carriage of the oncoming train ploughed right into the last carriage of the stationary train, entering two metres into it," Metro sources said .

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said that "something didn't work with the system's automatic controls" .

The trains' black box data recorders have been retrieved and are currently being examined by investigators .

Metro officials said the trains involved were brand new, high-tech models only recently introduced on Rome's underground network, which consists of two lines only .

The Spanish-made trains are to gradually replace the old trains used on the two lines .

A Metro spokesman denied there had been any problems with the system prior to the incident .

"Nothing untoward was reported before the crash," the spokesman said .

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who was at the scene, said that "I've asked Metro managers to explain how something like this could have happened. The trains were both new and working" .

The mayor admitted that the authorities initially feared a terrorist attack .

"At the beginning, we thought something else caused the accident. There was talk of an explosion. But within minutes, we were informed of the dynamics of the incident," he said .

He praised the city's emergency services and said it was a "miracle" that the driver of the oncoming train had survived .

The scene at Piazza Vittorio was chaotic with rescue workers taking 90 minutes to free all of the injured from the wreckage of the two trains .

Witnesses told reporters how they also had initially thought a terrorist attack was to blame .

"Inside the carriage, people were crying out that a bomb had gone off. They were screaming 'It's a terrorist attack and we're all going to die'. We really were convinced it was a bomb," a university student told ANSA .

Another passenger who was inside the last carriage of the stationary train and was lucky to escape unscathed said: "I was leaning against the side of the carriage waiting for it to go when I saw another train approaching from behind. I thought it would stop but it just kept coming .

"Terrified, I moved to the front of the carriage and threw myself on the floor. Then I heard a huge crash. When I opened my eyes, all I could see was blood and injured people around me and all I could hear was a continual wailing. It was devastating" .

A journalist with state broadcaster RAI who was aboard one of the trains and also emerged unharmed said that "the impact was incredibly powerful despite the fact that the oncoming train had slowed down to enter the station" .

"The worst moment was when we got out of our carriage because the scene around us was one of total panic, with people crying and screaming," he said .

The accident caused widespread disruption in the capital, with the suspension of underground rail services and extensive traffic jams .

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano expressed his condolences for the victims of the crash .

Premier Romano Prodi was being informed of developments by Veltroni and Transport Minister Alessandro Bianchi, who said the underground line involved in the incident would remain closed until tomorrow at the earliest .

The government will report to parliament on the incident on Tuesday evening .

Rome's underground rail system has a relatively good safety record. The only previous crash was in April 1991 when a train hit a car on an external, open-air part of the line killing the car driver, a 17-year-old youth, and injuring the train driver .

Naples' underground network has a slightly worse record with a crash in 1982, in which one person was injured, and another in October 1991 which cost the life of a train driver .

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