MILAN (Reuters) - A high-speed train derailed in northern Italy in the early hours of Thursday, killing its two drivers, injuring scores of people and disrupting traffic on the busy line between Milan and Bologna.
The train skipped the tracks while travelling at an estimated 280 kph (175 mph), with the front engine jumping onto an adjacent track and smashing into idle freight wagons before coming to a stop several hundred metres (yards) distant.
The front passenger wagon decoupled from the engine and was left lying on its side, while the rest of the train managed to stay upright.
“It could have been a slaughter,” said Marcello Cardona, the government representative in the province of Lodi where the pre-dawn accident took place.
Only 33 people were aboard the train, which left Italy’s financial capital Milan at 5.10 a.m. (0410 GMT), the first high-speed service of the day. It was heading to the southern city of Salerno when it flew off the rails after just 20 minutes, near the small town of Livraga.
Emergency services said 27 people were hurt, but none had life-threatening injuries.
Officials said maintenance had been carried out on the line overnight and investigators were looking to see if this work might have caused the disaster.
Lodi’s prosecutor, Domenico Chiaro, told reporters the train derailed due to the wrong positioning of a railroad switch.
He said there were no obstacles on the track when the accident occurred and ruled out the possibility of deliberate sabotage. It would take “two days or more” to free the tracks and resume normal traffic on the line, he added.
The derailment was the first deadly accident involving Italy’s high-speed trains since the network began running in 2005.
The system has proved a rare success story in the country’s otherwise ageing infrastructure, with dozens of trains connecting the main northern cities with the main southern ones every day.
Numerous services were cancelled in the wake of the accident and many trains from the south were having to end their journey in Bologna rather than continue further north.
Train workers said they would stage a two-hour strike on Friday to protest against the deaths.
Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gavin Jones, Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens