- Associated Press - Sunday, January 30, 2011

BERLIN | German authorities said Sunday that the death toll could still rise from a head-on collision between a cargo train and a passenger train that killed at least 10 people, injured 23 others and left wreckage scattered across a frost-covered field.

The trains crashed in heavy fog late Saturday on a single-line track near the eastern German village of Hordorf, close to Saxony-Anhalt’s state capital, Magdeburg, vaulting the passenger train from the track and tipping it onto its side.

The front rows of the first passenger compartment were crushed, and several seats lay outside the train. Both trains caught fire, but most of the dead were killed on impact, police said.

The crash is one of the worst train accidents in Germany’s history.

“The crash was so strong that the passenger train was catapulted off the tracks,” Armin Friedrich, the police officer in charge of the rescue efforts, said at a news conference in Hordorf, about 125 miles southwest of Berlin, Germany’s capital.

Nearly 200 police and rescue workers were sent to the crash site.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, and experts said they were still looking at all possibilities, including technical failure and human error. State Gov. Wolfgang Boehmer, who visited the site Sunday, told reporters one of the drivers may have missed a red traffic signal.

Police said it was too early to comment on a possible cause.

“We are still speechless and shocked by the images and the level of destruction,” said Holger Hoevelmann, the interior minister of Saxony-Anhalt.

The passenger train operated by Harze Elbe Express was on its way from Magdeburg to Halberstadt with about 50 passengers aboard, moving at a speed of 62 mph, when it crashed with the cargo train, which was going 50 mph.

The cargo train, run by Peine-Salzgitter, was carrying calcium carbonate, often used as a calcium substitute or antacid.

Neither train operator could immediately be reached for comment, but the head of Deutsche Bahn, the national German railway, told news agency DAPD that he was “deeply upset” by the accident.

“Of course, we will do everything possible to support all those involved in this accident,” Ruediger Grube said, adding that he had contacted Harz Elbe Express and offered help.

At the scene, mangled parts of the blue-and-yellow passenger train were scattered around the field. The dark imprints of some of the bodies that had been removed could be seen on the white frosty ground next to the crash site.

The noise of the collision was heard in the village of Oschersleben, more than four miles away.

Owing to the heavy fog, rescue helicopters were not able to fly the injured to nearby hospitals, and they had to be taken by ambulance instead.

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