On 15th February 2010, the Halle Train Collision was a collision between two passengers trains carrying a combined 250-300 people in Buizingen, in the municipality of Halle, Flemish Brabant, Belgium. The accident occurred in snowy conditions during rush hour on railway line 96 about 12 kms from Brussels between P-train E3678 . A third train was able to come to a stop just in time. The collision killed 19 people and injured 171, making it the deadliest rail accident in Belgium in over fifty years.
Cause of Accident:
It was determined to be a human error on behalf of the driver of the train from Leuven, who passed a red signal without authorization. This was contested by the train driver, despite the confirmations of the safety and judicial investigations. Another contributing factor was the absence of TBL 1+ on the train that passed the red signal. If TBL 1+ had been installed the accident may have been avoided. The disaster led to the accelerated rollout of TBL 1+ on the entire Belgian railway network. The last NMBS/SNCB train was fitted with the system in November 2016.
Three investigations were held in the aftermath of the accident:
- A parliamentary investigation to review railway safety.
- Demand for investigation – Based on the report developed for the whole incident occurred that consisted of more than 300 pages and contained 109 recommendations for avoiding similar accidents in the future.
- Identified Shortcomings – The safety level in Belgium did not undergo any meaningful improvements from 1982 to 2010, an unclear division of responsibilities between the service and infrabel, a lack of cooperation between the service and investigation body for railways accidents and incidents.
- Recommendations – System in line with ERTMS that allows full control over a train’s speed, specific recruitment of new personnel and training of both new and existing personnel.
- A safety investigation for the purpose of preventing future accidents.
- Running of a Red signal – The investigation by the Investigation Body did not reveal any action from the signaller in the signal control center that could have caused the signal to be green for the train from Leuven. The Investigation Body did not find any physical defect that could have caused the signal to be green instead of red, and therefore considers it as established that the signal was in fact red. A possible explanation could be found in the psychological and more specifically the cognitive aspects of the train driver’s activities in the operational context. The train driver could have erroneously assumed the signal was green because of the combination of a slightly lessened attention due to the driver’s short night’s sleep and a routine reaction to the signal that the train’s doors were closed.
- Automatic Protection Systems – the Investigation Body stated that the only solution is the adoption of automatic train protection systems: systems that can monitor a train’s speed and apply the brakes automatically, such as the TBL 1+ system that was being rolled out since 2009.
- Safety Culture – The Belgian railway companies were already aware of the impossibility of eliminating human errors and of the need of technological solutions to combat red signals being passed for almost a decade. This weakness was the result of important delays in meeting deadlines of regulatory requirements.
- Accelerated rollout of TBL 1+ – Infrabel and the SNCB/NMBS proposed a plan for the accelerated rollout of TBL 1+ on the level of the rolling stock by the end of 2013 and on the level of the railway infrastructure by the end of 2015. because TBL 1+ does not provide complete monitoring of a train, the Investigation Body noted that this catch up could only serve as a transitional measure towards the implementation of ETCS by the two companies.
- A judicial investigation into whether any laws were broken.
- Opening of investigation – The train driver and representatives of the NMBS/SNCB and Infrabel were heard in September 2014 and formally indicted by the investigating judge.
- Delays in investigation – The investigating judge concluded the investigation at the end of September 2016 and sent it back to the Halle-Vilvoorde prosecution office to decide on whether and who to prosecute.
- Final Charges – In March 2018, the tribunal of first instance in Brussels definitively decided that the driver, the NMBS/SNCB, and Infrabel would be held to account before the police tribunal of Halle. The train driver’s defence announced that it would ask the police tribunal to have the case tried in French instead of Dutch.
“Belgian train crash::: Eighteen people dead in Halle”. BBC News. 15 February 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
“Rapport d’enquête de sécurité – La collision ferroviaire survenue le 15 février 2010 à Buizingen”[Report of the safety investigation – The train collision of 15 February 2010 in Buizingen] (PDF). www.mobilit.fgov.be (in French). Investigation Body for Railway Accidents and Incidents. May 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2018.^
Summary of safety investigation report – Collision of two passenger trains in Buizingen on 15 February 2010 (Belgian Investigation Body for Railway Accidents and Incidents, May 2012)https://mobilit.belgium.be/sites/default/files/OOOE/2010/summary_buizingen.pdf