British railroad accident the worst in 30 years; cause still unknown

Investigators are searching for the cause of Britain's worst train accident in 30 years as Londoners assess Monday's tragedy on one of Europe's busiest commuter rail lines. The accident occurred south of London near Clapham Junction when three trains collided during the morning rush hour, killing 42 people and injuring more than 100 other passengers. British Transport Police say that the number of deaths could be as high as 53.

Just before 8 a.m., a stationary commuter train from Basingstoke en route to London's Waterloo Station was struck in the rear by a train from Poole (on England's southeast coast) also en route to Waterloo. An empty freight train crashed into the wreckage and a fourth train was stopped just short of the accident.

A British Rail spokesman said the two commuter trains were carrying an estimated 1,500 passengers. Approximately 450,000 passengers commute into London each morning between 7 and 10, according to British Rail.

The cause of the accident is unknown, but there is speculation about a failure of the signaling equipment which railway officials say dates to the 1930s. The signal boxes are due to be replaced in the near future.

Britain's transport secretary, Paul Channon, is expected to announce today a public investigation into the incident.

A study highlighting the problems on the central London rail system is due to be released early next year, and is expected to recommend investment in new rail lines to relieve the strain on existing overcrowded routes.

``Although overcrowding is not unsafe in itself, with trains being packed to the degree [they are] these days, we've always said that the effects of an accident could be horrific,'' says Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen.

``We railwaymen have always been very proud of our safety standards and work hard to maintain them. So we shall insist that a public inquiry at the highest level takes place,'' Mr. Knapp told the BBC.

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