A Trenord commuter train from Cremona to Milan partially derailed at 6.57am on Thursday, with some 350 people on board. The accident happened between the stations of Pioltello and Segrate, just to the north-east of Milan.
Only the central carriages derailed, leaving one car bent almost into an L shape across the tracks.
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco
Some passengers remained trapped inside as a team of around 90 firefighters and search-and-rescue units cleared the scene.
The operation lasted several hours, with dozens evacuated in ambulances and by helicopter. A nearby field and two gymnasiums were turned into first aid centres for those injured.
WHO WERE THE VICTIMS?
Three people died in the crash, all of them women who lived locally. They have been named as Giuseppina Pirri, a 39-year-old from Cernusco sul Naviglio; Pierangela Tadini, 51, originally from Caravaggio but a resident of Vanzago; and Ida Maddalena Milanesi, 62, also from Caravaggio.
We have only a few details of their lives. Milanesi was a doctor who headed the radiotherapy department at a neurological research institute in Milan.
Tadani was travelling with her 18-year-old daughter, who was injured in the crash but not fatally.
Pirri made a tragic final call to her mother from the train, in which she told her: “Mum, help, the train is derailing...” Then, silence. According to her father, Pietro, she frequently complained that the trains were “often broken and always crowded”.
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco
Another 100 or so people were reported injured, of whom 46 were still being treated by Thursday evening. Four are in a serious condition, though none of their lives are thought to be in danger.
WHY DID THE TRAIN CRASH?
The investigation is ongoing, but one early hypothesis is that part of the train tracks broke off, sending the wheels of the train’s central carriages off the rails.
Technicians for Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI), the company responsible for maintaining Italy’s railway tracks, found a 23-centimetre gap in the tracks around two kilometres behind where the train derailed. The track may have given way under the weight of the front of the train, leading the wheels of the middle three carriages to come off the tracks.
The train continued moving until the derailed carriages hit three electricity poles and wrapped around a fourth, media reports have suggested.
Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP
That account fits with what witnesses described, which was that the train began to shake violently before the impact.
“A little before Pioltello station the train started to vibrate, we realized that something was about to happen,” one passenger said. People on the platform at Pioltello said they saw sparks flying from under the train as it passed through the station.
“When I heard that it was vibrating so much, I immediately put on the brakes but it was already too late, the train was already off the tracks,” the driver told emergency services.
Another passenger reported: “There was a big thud, then a loud screech that seemed to go on forever, then everyone started crying out.”
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
An investigation was opened almost immediately after the crash. Public prosecutors are studying the train’s “black box”, the carriages themselves, the scene of the accident and maintenance records to determine if negligence caused the accident – and if so, whose.
If there was a problem with the tracks, RFI could be found liable. There is known to have been another instance of a train partially derailing near Pioltello in July 2017, though without causing any injuries. And the section of track where the gap was found was ageing and due to be replaced; workers had even laid out the replacement track next to the line in preparation.
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco
Many commentators and social media users pointed to chronic problems with Italy’s commuter trains, which some said had been neglected in favour of funnelling investment into the high-speed rail network. According to a report by the environmental watchdog Legambiente, published just a few days earlier, the Cremona-Milan line was one of the worst in the Lombardy region, with trains that were old, slow, overcrowded and prone to breakdowns.
The Transport Ministry has opened its own inquiry into the accident. Transport Minister Graziano Delrio, who called an emergency meeting of regional authorities and Trenord on Thursday afternoon, said: “The Italian rail system is certainly one of the safest in the world, but we want the truth and we want it quickly, because it is unacceptable to die on your way to work.”
Anyone looking for information about loved ones who may have been affected by the derailment can call one of two dedicated helplines: 02 7758 4184 or 02 7758 4892.