Italy pulls together, vows to investigate Puglia train crash

Italian authorities have promised a safety investigation into the Tuesday crash, which left at least 27 people dead. 

Alessandro Garofalo/ Reuters
People stand at the site where two passenger trains collided in the middle of an olive grove in the southern village of Corato, near Bari, Italy on July 12, 2016.

Italian authorities promised a safety investigation in the wake of a head-on train crash that left at least 27 dead and dozens injured on Tuesday, as volunteers formed long queues to donate blood to survivors at hospitals around the country. 

Several NGOs and hospitals based in cities near where the collision occurred, in the southern region of Puglia, sent out an urgent request for blood on Tuesday, local media reported. Social media came alive with images of donation centers where volunteers urged the public to help out, as one Puglia-based NGO director said he was "moved by the overwhelming generosity." 

The two trains that collided head-on on Tuesday, causing one of the worst crashes in Italian history. The commuter line was ferrying mostly workers and students, and about half of the identified victims were young people, according to Italian media. 

Authorities in the region of Tuscany also urged the public to help out, appealing to their memory of a 2009 disaster in Viareggio, when a freight train carrying liquid petroleum gas derailed and exploded, killing 32 people.

"Go donate blood right now," said the region’s chief health officer, Stefania Saccardi, calling it "a gesture of great solidarity."

She added that authorities in Tuscany were making blood provisions available to Puglia hospitals as well as sending medical personnel to assist in treating the wounded. 

Pope Francis also expressed his grief over the tragedy.

“His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt and genuine participation in the sorrow striking so many families,” Vatican secretary of state Archbishop Pietro Parolin said in a statement, adding that Francis had pledged “fervent prayers of repose for those who tragically died."

Union leaders and railway police say human error may have been to blame for the crash, noting that the stretch of track between the towns of Andria and Corato where the two trains collided head-on did not have an automated alert system that would warn conductors if two trains were close by and on the same track. Instead, the system relied upon stationmasters to use phones to notify one another when trains left the station.

Union leaders and railway police say human error may have been to blame for the crash, noting that the stretch of track between the towns of Andria and Corato where the two trains collided head-on did not have an automated alert system that would warn conductors if two trains were close by and on the same track. Stationmasters would simply phone one another to give notice of when trains were leaving the station.

Automatic brake systems are in use on most of Italy’s railways, but some stretches of track still lack them, particularly in less prosperous southern regions of the country, as The New York Times reported. A dean at a university in nearby Bari told the newspaper that about 10,000 passengers traverse the line per day.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called it an “absurd and unacceptable” tragedy after visiting the crash site on Tuesday, and pledged a full inquiry to find out what was responsible, The Telegraph reported.

The mayor of Andria, Nicola Giorgino, said the crash was especially tragic given that the construction of a second track on the route was projected to begin within a few months, though Italian news sources suggested that the track was supposed to have begun years ago. Francesco Giannella, chief prosecutor in the nearby town of Trani, told local media that the delay in construction would be part of the investigation, according to the Associated Press. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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