Five rail maintenance workers killed by train in Italy

Firefighters and police officers at the train station in Brandizzo, Italy, where the maintenance workers were hit (Tino ROMANO)
Firefighters and police officers at the train station in Brandizzo, Italy, where the maintenance workers were hit (Tino ROMANO)

Five railway workers died after being hit by a train during overnight maintenance in northern Italy, officials said Thursday, triggering outrage among trade unions who blamed a lack of safety procedures.

The train, which was transporting empty carriages on the Milan-Turin line, was reportedly travelling at 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph) when it struck a team replacing parts of the track near Brandizzo, on the outskirts of Turin.

RFI, the company that manages Italy's rail network, confirmed that five maintenance workers employed by an external contractor had died after a train "not in commercial service" hit them shortly before midnight.

In a statement, it expressed its "deep sorrow" at the deaths of the workers, offered condolences to their families and said investigations were underway.

The fire service confirmed that "five workers were killed by a passing train" and said two others were injured.

Media reports suggested the pair who escaped, including the foreman, were physically unharmed but under observation, while the train driver was said to be suffering from shock.

The bodies of the men who died, the youngest of whom was 22, the oldest in his early 50s, were said to have been dragged for several metres.

Paolo Bodoni, the mayor of Brandizzo, said an emergency worker had described to him a "chilling scene, with human remains across 300 metres".

"It's a huge tragedy," he told the AGI news agency, adding that "It cannot be excluded that there could have been a communication error".

- Safety failures -

Train service between Turin and Milan was suspended Thursday as investigators picked their way through the scene.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni offered her "deepest condolences" and said she was closely following the case, "with the hope of shedding light on what happened as soon as possible".

The transport ministry announced its own investigation, in addition to probes by judicial authorities and the rail network.

"The rule is that works on the tracks can begin when it is confirmed that there are no trains on the line," said transport minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini.

"Prosecutors and technicians are investigating how such a dramatic accident could have happened," he said.

Outraged trade union leaders said safety had long been an concern on the railways.

The head of the CGIL union, Maurizio Landini, called a four-hour nationwide strike on Friday for RFI maintenance staff.

"We have been condemning for some time the serious issues -- never resolved -- regarding safety procedures in the maintenance of the rail network," he said.

He added: "There is so much anger... It's time to say enough, enough deaths at work."

The head of transport union Uiltrasporti, Claudio Tarlazzi, said the accident was "shameful and unworthy of a civilised country".

Elly Schlein, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, demanded an urgent plan of investment in safety in the workplace.

Offering her condolences to the victims' loved ones, she said: "One thing is already certain -- we cannot be a country where people continue to die of work."

Italy recorded 776 fatal accidents on the job in 2020, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat -- by far the highest number in the bloc.

But when adjusted for population size and the importance of different industries, the incidence rate is comparable to those in France and Austria, at around three per 100,000 people employed.

The accident is the latest tragedy on the Italian railways in recent years.

Two rail workers died and 31 passengers were injured in February 2020 when a train derailed before dawn near Lodi, south of Milan.

And in January 2018, three women died and about 100 people were injured when a packed train derailed near Milan, an accident blamed on poor track maintenance.