BRUSSELS — A rush-hour commuter train sped through a red signal and slammed into an oncoming train as it left a suburban Brussels station Monday, killing at least 18 and disrupting rail traffic in northern Europe.
Investigations into one of the worst accidents on the Belgian rails were likely to focus on whether human error was responsible or if it could have been influenced by the persistently freezing temperatures that have iced up the European capital.
Officials said 80 people were injured, 20 seriously, and the death toll — 15 men and three women — was not considered final. As darkness fell more than 10 hours later, rescuers were still looking for victims, said Jos Colpin, the spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office.
The fate of the two drivers was not immediately known, and officials said they were having difficulty identifying some victims.
The trains, carrying a total of about 300 passengers, collided in light snow just outside of the station at Buizingen about 9 miles from Brussels around 8:30 a.m.
The impact peeled away the front of one train car and threw at least one other off the tracks, severing the limbs of some passengers. One engine was thrust high into the air and snapped overhead power lines.
"When we came out we saw dead bodies lying next to the tracks, some mutilated," said Patricia Lallemand, 40, who was in a middle car and was unhurt.
Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of the province of Flemish Brabant, said one train "apparently did not heed a stop light."
Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, expressed his "shock and sorrow" over the accident. King Albert II and Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who canceled a trip to Kosovo moments after landing in Pristina, visited the crash site.
It was the first serious Belgian train accident since March 28, 2001, when eight people died when a crowded train plowed into an empty train driving on the wrong tracks. The worst European crash in recent history was near the German town of Eschede in 1998 when almost 100 people were killed when a cracked wheel hurled a train off the tracks.