Italy rail crash: Andria station master 'let crash train go'

Officials inspect wreckage from train crash near Andria (13 July) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The crash was Italy's worst rail disaster since 2009

A station master in southern Italy has admitted he allowed a train to go on a single track, minutes before a deadly collision with an oncoming train.

Twenty-three people died and 52 others were hurt in the head-on crash on a single track between Andria and Corato in the Apulia region on Tuesday.

"I let the train go, I was the one who gave the signal," Andria station master Vito Piccarreta told Italian media.

But he was adamant he was not the only one at fault.

Mr Piccarreta, a railway employee with 24 years of service, was quoted by La Stampa and other newspapers as saying: "I'm not the only one at fault, everyone is blaming me. But I'm a victim too."

While he and the station master at Corato have both been suspended as part of an investigation into multiple manslaughter, local prosecutors are also looking into safety procedures on the single-track line and why the line had not been upgraded to a double track.

"The investigation will not only look into human error, we must examine all possibilities," said prosecutor Francesco Giannella.

Three trains

The rail line north of Bari relies on an antiquated phone alert system dating back to the 1960s, in common with some 600km (370 miles) of regional track elsewhere in Italy, the government says. An estimated 2,700km of Italy's rail infrastructure remains single track.

An investigator told La Repubblica newspaper that the problem was not the single track but a control system that had been automated everywhere else. While the number of trains has increased in the Bari area, the system still relies on an outdated reliance on station masters and drivers.

Image copyright Italian fire service
Image caption The crash took place on one of Italy's many single-track lines, however most of them have upgraded safety systems

It has emerged that because rail services were late, three trains were travelling in the area at the time of the crash. Mr Piccarreta said he was unaware of the extra train travelling from Corato.

Although the bidding process to update the track and safety systems north of Bari is due to start shortly, millions of euros in EU funding allocated in 2009 to replace single-track lines has gone unspent. The company that runs the line north of Bari, Ferrotramviaria, has blamed Italian bureaucracy for the lack of progress.

Funerals for the victims of the disaster are due to begin taking place at the weekend. Among the victims were a mother and daughter found by rescuers beside the wrecked trains in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

The Andria rail crash was Italy's worst since a train carrying gas derailed in Viareggio in 2009, claiming the lives of more than 30 people who lived in the area.

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