The accident in which a 20-year-old man from Aarschot in Flemish Brabant died after his car was hit by a train on a level crossing was the result of a communication error, according to the rail infrastructure company Infrabel.
The goods train in question was travelling from Hasselt in the east to Aarschot, when it broke down just after the crossing in Langdorp. The driver contacted Infrabel, which sent out a towing locomotive, which began towing the goods train in the direction of Hasselt.
In the meantime, Brent Van Eylen was driving his friend Robbe home with his girlfriend Yentel in the back seat. When the Volkswagen Polo arrived at the level crossing in the Winterstraat, the barriers were up and the lights on white, signalling that it was safe to cross.
Instead, the train struck the vehicle at full speed, pushing it more than 100m along the line. Brent was killed, and the two passengers injured. The accident took place at about 23.30 on Thursday evening.
At first, it was thought the signalling at the level crossing was faulty, as witnesses reported that there was no warning given before the train passed. But according to the latest version of events produced by Infrabel, there was no technical fault, Gazet Van Antwerpen reports. The order had been given for the stricken train to stop at every crossing, to sound his horn and drive through if clear to do so at a speed no faster than 5km/h, and to continue at a maximum speed of 20km/h to Hasselt. However, the company’s spokesperson told the paper, that order was not communicated to the driver of the rescue vehicle by an Infrabel employee.
“The indications now being looked at for the origin of this drama point towards human error,” Infrabel’s spokesperson said.
In any event, it appears the driver of the tow-train is not at fault. There is, however, one technical problem remaining. Crossings are normally equipped with sensors which detect when a train is coming, but because the goods train was being towed on the opposite track in essentially the wrong direction, the sensors did not detect it and shut down the crossing. At many locations, the sensors can be switched automatically to suit such a case, but the crossing at Langdorp is technically unable to be switched.
“Let us be quite clear that this is a very exceptional situation,” Infrabel’s spokesperson said. “People must have no fear of going over a level crossing if the barriers are up, you hear no signal bell and the lights are not on red.”
Meanwhile the Infrabel employee who failed to pass on the crucial instructions to the driver has, the paper reports, been suspended, and is undergoing counselling. The prosecutor’s office in Leuven is carrying out an enquiry.