The trial of a train driver accused of causing the train crash at Buizingen in Flemish Brabant in February 2010 will have to start again, this time in French, a court has ordered. Buizingen comes under the new judicial territory of Halle-Vilvoorde, but when the initial charges were brought eight years ago, the territory included Brussels. Now, trials are conducted in Dutch; however at the time of the alleged offence, the accused person would have had the right to choose between French and Dutch.
The accident happened on the snow-covered morning of 15 February 2010, when a train travelling from Leuven to Braine le Comte collided head-on with one travelling from Quiévrain to Liège. The accident resulted in the deaths of 19 people; 310 others were injured.
The collision was the most serious in Belgium since 1908. However the casualty figures might have been a lot worse had not the Braine train been pulling out of Halle station at low speed.
The driver of the Liège train is charged with passing a red signal. Since he is a French-speaker, the court this week ruled he is entitled to be tried in French.
That means the thousands of pages of investigative reports, which have taken more than eight years to compile, will mostly have to be translated into French to allow the defence full access to all of the evidence. The same goes for the new magistrates who will be assigned to the case.
The charges, meanwhile, run out of time in two years under the statute of limitations, but Dimitri De Béco, lawyer for the driver, said the new development would not prevent the trial from going ahead before then. Much of the evidence dossier is already in French, including statements from witnesses and from the driver himself, and will not need to be translated.
Both the rail authority SNCB and rail infrastructure company Infrabel also face charges relating to negligence in matters of safety. However as they are national authorities and therefore language-neutral, the latest court order does not affect them.