Prosecutors argue that rail companies SNBC/NMBS and Infrabel have a central responsibility in a 2010 passenger train collision in which 19 people died. Credit: © Belga

Belgium’s main rail companies are facing hefty fines and a train driver could be dealt a prison sentence as the case of a catastrophic train crash that killed 19 passengers almost a decade ago comes to a head.

After a lengthy and complex trial, a three-year suspended prison sentence was requested for the driver of an SNCB/NMBS train accused of causing the train crash, which took place in the winter of 2010, Le Soir reported.

SNCB/NMBS is being faced with a fine totalling €700,000, while railway manager Infrabel could be ordered to pay up to €650,00.

Federal prosecutors argue that the accused driver caused the collision of two passenger trains in the town of Buizingen, south of Brussels, which cost 19 people their lives and injured hundreds more.

The prosecution argues that the driver skipped a red traffic light, a contentious charge denied by the defendant and his lawyers and whose veracity has been challenged by an external report.

The report, carried out by an electromechanics expert from the ULB university at the request of the defendant’s team, says that traffic signal system may have malfunctioned and that it wasn’t certain that the driver had skipped a red light.

But as she presented the prosecution’s penalty requests on Monday, Deputy Attorney General Catherine Ramaekers said that all evidence suggests that the light was red, according to De Standaard.

“The man disputes that, but the judicial experts rule out technical defects or sabotage. All registered data show that the light in question was red,” she said.

Lawyer Jan Buelens said that the report was commissioned to “sow doubt” about where the responsibilities lay in the case.

“Our claim is primarily directed against Infrabel and the NMBS, who bear at least as much —if not greater—responsibility for this accident,” Buelens said.

Buelens’ statements were echoed by attorney general Ramaekers, who said the disastrous train crash made it clear that the NMBS had failed to meet its obligations in regards to passenger safety.

The prosecution is also arguing that Infrabel should not have removed a safety system which, according to De Standaard, would have prevented one of the trains from departing from the station if the track was not clear.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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