BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A packed commuter train crashed at a Buenos Aires station during Wednesday’s morning rush hour, killing 49 people and injuring more than 600 in Argentina’s worst rail disaster in three decades.
Passengers said the force of the collision propelled the second train car inside the first carriage, trapping dozens of people in the wreckage alongside the busy platforms at Once station.
Officials said faulty brakes were suspected of causing the accident and witnesses said the train hurtled into the buffers.
“I said, ‘Be careful, the train isn’t braking’ ... I moved backward because I thought it was going to run me over,” said Alfredo Velazquez, 33, a shopping centre manager who was waiting on the platform.
“There was a terrible explosion and a brutal impact,” he said.
Commuters inside the train “flew through the air,” a passenger wearing a neckbrace who identified himself as Fabio told local television. “There were lots of people thrown to the floor, injured, bloodied.”
“The train (car) was embedded inside the other ... the seats were gone, they disappeared, and people were jumping out of the window,” he said.
A police captain said 49 people were killed, including one child.
Relatives and friends wandered around the train station later in the day, trying to find news of missing loved ones.
President Cristina Fernandez expressed her “profound sadness,” calling off Carnival festivities and declaring two days of mourning.
Most of the victims were travelling in the first two cars of the eight-car train, which Transport Secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi said was carrying between 1,200 and 1,500 passengers.
“The train entered Once station at 26 kilometres per hour (16 mph) ... we suppose there was some flaw in the brakes,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Telam. “The train folded up on itself.”
The 28-year-old driver remained in intensive care and about 460 of the injured were still being treated in local hospitals.
Wednesday’s crash is bound to fuel criticism of the country’s dilapidated and overcrowded rail services, which are run by private companies with hefty state subsidies and are prone to accidents and delays.
Argentina’s once-extensive rail network was largely dismantled during privatizations in the 1990s.
“This is the responsibility of a company that is known for insufficient maintenance and ... improvisation,” said Edgardo Reinoso, a train workers’ trade union representative.
“On the other hand, there is also a lack of controls on the part of state entities,” Reinoso told local radio.
The company holding the Sarmiento line concession, TBA, said it was investigating the cause of the collision.
Some 10 million passengers travel every month on the Sarmiento line, which links Buenos Aires to its western suburbs. It was the scene of another crash in September, when two commuter trains smashed into a city bus, killing 11 people.
Months earlier, four people died during another rail crash.
The worst train accidents in Argentine history include a 1970 crash that killed more than 230 people and another in 1978, in which about 55 died, local media said.
Additional reporting by Helen Popper, Guido Nejamkis and Alejandro Lifschitz; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh