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49 killed as train slams into retaining wall in Buenos Aires

This news story was published on February 22, 2012.
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By Andres D’ Alessandro and Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times –

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A commuter train went out of control and slammed into a retaining barrier in a central Buenos Aires train station during peak rush hour Wednesday morning, killing at least 49 people and injuring more than 500, federal police officials said.

(PHOTO: Emergency workers take care of people injured after a commuter train plowed into the end of the line killing at least 48 people and leaving hundreds injured, police say, Wednesday, February 22, 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.)

After impact, many cars pancaked or jumped the tracks, killing both passengers and people waiting at the station to board. No official cause of the accident had been determined by midday, but officials speculated that a brake or system failure or human error sent the train out of control.

Police spokesman Nestor Rodriguez said the train was traveling about 15 mph and that the toll could have been much higher had it been traveling faster.

The train that crashed was on the Sarmiento line that brings commuters to central Buenos Aires, the capital, from the western reaches of the metropolis.

Three hours after the crash, rescue workers with the Emergency Medical Care System along with firefighters and police were working frantically to free trapped passengers and extract victims from the twisted and compacted wreckage of the train.

Television coverage of the wreck showed scenes of anguish and desperation among people seeking news of friends and relatives on the train. Several hospitals were coping with treating the estimated 550 injured people.

One passenger who identified himself only as Emanuel told the newspaper El Clarin that he was nearing the end of his commute to his job when he felt a strong impact, followed by passengers “falling on top of each other” and by desperate screams.

Several members of a rail workers union said in TV interviews that the commuter train system had fallen into disrepair. Union spokesman Ruben Sobrero, however, told reporters that the train’s braking system had been checked as recently as Tuesday night at the Castelar  maintenance facility.

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