(Updates to add Fernandez decrees in third paragraph.)
Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Forty-nine people were killed and more than 460 injured when a packed commuter train slammed into the buffers and safety barriers at one of Buenos Aires’ busiest railway stations.
The crash, the second-worst in Argentina’s history, may have been caused by brake failure, Transport Secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi told local media shortly after the crash. The train entered the station at 26 kilometers per hour (16 miles per hour) and probably hit the barriers at 20 kilometers per hour, he said.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner cancelled her plans for the day and issued a decree declaring two days of mourning for the victims of the crash. The president additionally cancelled the planned Carnival parades scheduled to be held in Buenos Aires Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.
“Everyone was falling over, on top of each other,” a woman who identified herself as Paula said in comments broadcast by Radio 10. She said she almost got off at a previous station after hearing something clattering against the floor of the train.
The train is owned by closely held Trenes de Buenos Aires SA, which said it is investigating the cause of the accident.
The crash caused 49 fatalities and 461 people were hospitalized, Schiavi said at a news conference at the Economy Ministry this afternoon.
‘Overflowing with People’
Most of the dead and severely hurt were in the first two carriages “which were overflowing with people,” said Schiavi, adding that between 1,200 and 1,500 passengers were on the train at the time of the crash, which occurred at the Once terminus in central Buenos Aires.
Emergency workers rescued some of the victims after cutting the roof off a carriage, while helicopters and ambulances carried away others.
Workers also lifted the injured, tightly packed inside carriages, from the wreckage through windows.
Thousands of people went to the station and city hospitals in search of relatives who had traveled on the train, which crashed at about 8:30 a.m. in the middle of rush hour.
Argentina’s worst railway crash occurred in 1970, when two trains collided near Benavidez, 48 kilometers from Buenos Aires, killing more than 200 people.
In September, at least seven people died and 214 were injured in another Buenos Aires neighborhood when a train crashed into a bus and then veered off the tracks to collide with another train.
That train, which also belonged to Trenes de Buenos Aires SA, was on a commuter line that links the center of the capital with its western suburbs. TBA, as the company is known, is owned by a group of Argentine businessmen and took over the services from the government in 1995.
The company, which modernized much of its rolling stock in the four years following the takeover, hasn’t been able to fulfill its investment plan because the government hasn’t paid agreed subsidies since 1999, according to TBA’s website. The totality of revenue from ticket sales goes to paying salaries and other payroll costs, TBA says on the website.
Schiavi said at the news conference that he had been told by a railwaymen’s union delegate the train was inspected yesterday.
--Editors: Harry Maurer, Philip Sanders
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