Driver in deadly Buizingen train crash no longer facing prison sentence

Driver in deadly Buizingen train crash no longer facing prison sentence
The catastrophic train crash in the winter of 2010 killed 19 people and injured hundreds. Credit: © Belga

The train driver accused of causing a catastrophic crash in which 19 people were killed is no longer facing a prison sentence, the prosecution announced Thursday.

After initially requesting a three year suspended prison sentence for the driver, the leading prosecutor said that recent trial hearings had made her reconsider.

"I was mistaken about it," Deputy Attorney General Catherine Ramaekers said, according to HLN. "I only had a picture of him on the basis of a file, but that changed after last week's sessions."

The driver is accused of skipping a red light and causing the collision of two SNCB/NMBS passenger trains in the town Buizingen, south of Brussels, in February of 2010.

The crash, in which 19 people died and hundreds more were injured, is the deadliest rail accident Belgium has seen in half a century.

News of the prosecution's revised penalty requests come as disputed claims over the rail traffic light system continue to be at the heart of the trial, with the driver's lawyers arguing the light had been green.

The attorney general's statements on Thursday signal an intention to apply a legal principle which would see rail companies bear the brunt of penalties and the driver acquitted, even if the court finds him guilty.

"Should the court be convinced that the light turned red and the driver should have braked, he must still be acquitted," Ramaekers said.

Companies carry larger responsibility

On Monday, heavy penalties were announced for Belgium's main railway companies, who are seen as carrying significant responsibility for the catastrophic collision.

National rail company SNCB/NMBS is facing a penalty of up to €700,000, while railway manager Infrabel could be ordered to pay up to €650,00.

"In such cases, where real people and legal persons stand trial, the law states that only those who have made the biggest mistake can be punished — that is not the train driver," the outlet cited the train drivers' defence lawyers as saying.

"If we believe [the rail companies], everything on the track was safe in Buizingen on that day," and the crash took place despite "completely safe" conditions.

Ongoing since 2018 after years of judicial and parliamentary inquiries, the trial this week saw all parties expose their cases and the train driver address the court.

He expressed his respect and condolences for the families of the victims, and insisted he had not skipped a red light, HLN reports.

The court is expected to deliver a verdict on the train disaster on 3 December.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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