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SNCB fined €160,000 over deaths of two railway workers

08:40 23/11/2022

The Belgian railway company SNCB has been fined €160,000 by a criminal court in Charleroi for charges that include unintentional assault, manslaughter and those related to work safety after two employees died in a double accident on 27 November 2017.

Both deaths occurred in the space of a few minutes in Morlanwelz and Strépy-Bracquegnies, Hainaut province.

Two workers for Infrabel, which manages the railway infrastructure, died after being hit by a rail carriage that broke away during a towing operation.

The first accident took place at the level crossing on the Mariemont road in Morlanwelz, when a vehicle immobilised on the tracks was struck by a train.

“The car was dragged for 380 metres before bursting into flames,” the prosecutor’s office said.

“The fire spread to the driver's cab of the 442 car. A recovery team from the Charleroi technical workshop was sent to the scene, with a recovery train to evacuate the train immobilised on the track.”

The recovery train arrived on the scene but it was impossible to uncouple the two railcars, which led to the decision to tow them both to Piéton station.

“In the meantime, a team from Infrabel was on site to repair the damage to the track at the site of the first accident,” explained the prosecutor's office.

“One of the two railcars broke away and rolled down the slope in the opposite direction without anyone on board, without brakes, without making any noise and without any lighting during the night. Two Infrabel workers lost their lives after being struck by the railcar while they were working on the track.”

That railcar also collided with another passenger train, injuring several people at Strépy-Bracquegnies.

According to the public prosecutor’s office, both Infrabel and SNCB failed to prevent and foresee the possible risks that come with this type of situation.

The SNCB pleaded for a suspension of the sentence and Infrabel asked to be acquitted, explaining that SNCB was responsible for lifting the demobilised train.

“At the time of the events, the SNCB specialised in lifting operations. Infrabel does not,” one of the company’s lawyers explained.

“It is not up to Infrabel to detect any risk in work that should have been carried out by the SNCB.”

The court agreed, acquitting Infrabel. It also issued criticism for the level of training of the workers who were tasked with lifting the train cars, calling it “insufficient”.

It rejected the SNCB’s request for a suspended sentence, calling the plea “inadequate”, but a partial stay was granted to “encourage the efforts” put in place by SNCB thus far.

SNCB had already been fined €35,000 in June 2020 for a failure to ensure work safety and for unintentional injury to staff members, and in January 2021, Infrabel was also fined €60,000 over a fatal train crash that took place in Buizingen in February 2010.

Written by Helen Lyons