By Ms. Christie Vanover (IMCOM)February 16, 2010
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - Two commuter trains collided in Belgium Feb. 15, killing at least 18 passengers and injuring dozens more.
The accident happened in Buizingen, which is about 25 miles from both ChiAfA..vres Air Base and USAG Brussels.
When Col. James Drago, USAG Benelux commander, learned of the incident, he requested a 100 percent accountability of all personnel. Both ChiAfA..vres Garrison and USAG Brussels contacted Soldiers, civilians and host nation employees.
"In an effort to make sure people were safe, we exercised our recall procedures," said Lt. Col. Francisco Rivera, director of Benelux Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "We accounted for everybody."
Stefania Delhaye, a customer service representative for the USAG Benelux Housing Office, said her husband was on board one of the trains.
"He called me maybe five minutes after it happened," she said. "When he called me, he said, 'There was a train accident. I think we went off the track,' but he didn't know what happened."
According to the SociAfAtAfA Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges and Infrabel, the collision occurred on line 96 at 8:30 a.m. The eastbound train was traveling from Mons-QuiAfAvrain to LiAfA..ge, and the westbound train was traveling from Leuven to Braine-le-Comte.
Yves Grandmaison, Delhaye's husband, boarded the train in Saint Ghislain. He was in the third car.
"He was asleep when it occurred. He knocked his head against the window, and the person in front of him fell on him," said Delhaye.
"They were stressed I think because they could all smell smoke, and they didn't know if the train was on fire and the doors could not open," she said.
The impact forced the front cars into the air, damaging overhead power lines. Other train cars were scattered across the tracks.
Grandmaison stuck his arm out of the train window and used his phone to take pictures, which he and other people on board looked at to try to understand what was happening.
"After a while they were able to release them from that section," said Delhaye. "That's when he realized what had happened."
Delhaye, who used to commute to Brussels on the same train, said her husband is not sure how he's going to feel about taking the train again.
"It's like taking the car after an accident. You just have to go back and see what you feel like, and do it as quickly as possible," she said.
The accident crippled train service across Western Europe. High-speed trains traveling to Paris and England were canceled along with commuter service across southwest Belgium. Adding to the disruptions, some conductors went on strike Feb. 16.
The exact cause of the accident is still under investigation. Infrabel and SNCB said they would not speculate on the cause until Belgian authorities complete the investigation.