Train collides with bus carrying tourists in Hungary, killing 3

Friday, May 9, 2003

SIOFOK, Hungary -- A passenger train sliced into a double-decker bus in Hungary on Thursday, killing at least 33 people, all German tourists on the bus.

Five other people were injured in what Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy called one of the worst traffic accidents in Hungary.

The collision happened around 9 a.m. at a railroad crossing near the town of Siofok, about 60 miles southwest of Budapest. The town is a popular tourist resort on Lake Balaton.

The bus was carrying some 38 people, mostly retirees.

The train cut the bus into two, dragging one section more than 150 yards along the tracks, said Tibor Dobson, spokesman for the National Catastrophe Directorate.

Television footage showed mounds of twisted metal wrapped around the front of the locomotive. Several bodies covered with blankets were still lying at the side of the tracks in the early afternoon.

Siofok officials earlier reported the death toll at 34, but lowered the figure after realizing that reports that a victim had died late Thursday afternoon at a hospital were mistaken.

State railway officials said the crossing signal was flashing red when the bus started moving across the tracks as the express train approached on its way from Budapest to Nagykanizsa in southern Hungary, near the border with Croatia, officials said.

A witness also said he had seen the bus cross the track while the warning lights were red.

"The train blew its whistle twice to warn the bus, but the train was not able to stop in time," said Istvan Galos, a 39-year-old engineer. Galos said he had reached the tracks in his car from the opposite direction when the accident occurred.

The crossing was unguarded and only a flashing light served as a warning of oncoming trains, with no barriers. Gates are rare at Hungarian railway crossings.

The prime minister said after a visit to the scene that barriers needed to be installed at railroad crossings. In Berlin, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered his condolences to the victims' relatives.

The German Embassy set up a crisis center near the scene.

From spring to fall, thousands of tourists visit the shores, hills and vineyards of Lake Balaton -- central Europe's biggest. The water is rich in minerals -- especially calcium and magnesium -- reputed to have a therapeutic effects for bathers.

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