12 killed as train hits revellers crossing track in Spain

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Twelve people died and 14 were injured when an express train slammed into a group of young revellers crossing a railway track to get to a beach party in northeast Spain, officials said Thursday.

"The impact was brutal. The sound was like that of rocks being crushed but it was humans," one witness to the disaster, named as Andres, told the daily newspaper El Mundo.

The accident happened as about 30 people who had got off a local train at the Castelldefels Playa station some 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Barcelona attempted to cross the tracks at around 11:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) on Wednesday.

They were headed to the nearby beach for the annual San Juan festival that celebrates the start of the summer in parts of Spain and which includes bonfires, fireworks and dancing.

The group was struck by an expressing train travelling to Barcelona from the southeastern city of Alicante.

"It is a day of sadness and mourning on a night that should be of festivity, of a street party," the president of the regional government of Catalonia, Jose Montilla, said after visiting the scene of the accident.

One of the injured is in critical condition and two others are in serious condition, Catalonia's health minister, Marina Geli, told a news conference.

All of the injured are under the age of 28 except for one woman who is 45, according to public radio.

Witnesses said a pedestrian subway quickly became filled by the hundreds of people who got off at the small station, prompting many to try to cross the tracks which were poorly lit at the time.

"Then a train arrived at great speed. It made several warning sounds. In three seconds there were bodies everywhere. Everyone screamed, cried, they were in a state of shock," said Marcelo Carmona, who had come with his family on the train from Barcelona.

Amateur video images taken right after the accident broadcast on Spanish television showed a young man running with an injured woman in his arms to one of the dozens of ambulances which had raced to the scene.

Small groups of youngsters embraced, their clothes lit up by the flashing lights of the vehicles of emergency services. Some wept or held their hands to their heads as they looked at the bodies strewn around them.

The task of identifying the victims will take until at least Friday because the intense impact of the collision left the bodies in pieces, Catalonia's justice minister, Montserrat Tura, told reporters.

"The people who worked on recovering the remains of the bodies said they have never seen anything like it before," she said, adding that most of the victims were of Latin American origin.

Forensic experts were relying on DNA evidence and fingerprints to identify the bodies since many of the faces were severely disfigured.

Transport Minister Jose Blanco promised a full investigation into the causes of the accident.

State-owned rail network Renfe said the train which struck the passengers was traveling at 139 kilometres (86 miles) an hour, just below the recommended maximum speed of 150 kilometres an hour, when it passed through the station.

Flags flew at half-mast across Catalonia after the regional government declared Thursday to be an official day of mourning.

Spanish media said it was the worst rail accident in Spain since 19 people were killed and 38 injured in a June 2003 collision between a passenger train and a freight train in the southeastern town of Chinchilla.

© 2010 AFP

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