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Cracked axle may have caused Viareggio accident

03 July 2009

Three independent inquiries have been called to investigate the cause of Monday's train disaster at Viareggio when a freight train carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) was derailed rupturing a tanker which subsequently exploded.

Viareggio train explosion
Viareggio train explosion

It is still too soon to establish the cause of the derailment according to the rail leasing firm Gatx Rail Europe, which said it was too early to speculate.

However, Italy's transport minister, Altero Matteoli told MPs in Rome that the disaster was caused by an axle failure on one of the LPG wagons. The minister said that investigators had discovered a small crack and traces of rust in the axle of the wagon.

Gatx Rail Europe has agreed it is responsible for the maintenance of its trains but the frequency with which wagons are serviced depends on the country where they are registered. Generally rolling stock is serviced every four years. The tankers making up the rolling stock of the LPG train were apparently built between 2003 and 2006.

The explosion happened shortly before midnight local time when one wagon of the 14 car train, travelling from La Spezia to Pisa, came off the tracks and crashed into several homes near the station in Viareggio. The derailment caused a massive explosion that destroyed two blocks of flats. Rescue workers say 17 people died and a further 25 were seriously injured. Around a thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes. Italy's president, SilvioBerlusconi has declared a state of emergency.

The train's two engineers were slightly injured but were able to tell the police that they felt an impact some 200m outside Viareggio station, shortly before part of the train left the tracks. The train was travelling at around 90km/hr at the time of the incident, well inside the 100km/hr speed limit for that section of track.

The Viareggio disaster is Italy's deadliest train accident since January 2005, when 17 people were killed in a head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train. This collision occurred in thick fog on a single track line near Bologna in northern Italy and led to calls for improved train safety.

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