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18 Youths Killed When Freight Cars Crash Into Train

June 25, 1995

CACHNOV, Czech Republic (AP) _ Runaway freight cars loaded with wood and scrap metal raced down a hill and smashed into a train packed with youths headed to a dance, officials said Sunday. Eighteen people were killed.

Railroad officials said a switching accident in this town about 60 miles east of Prague started the cars rolling 2 1/2 miles downhill into the path of the local train. Three railway employees faced criminal charges.

Four helicopters took medical and rescue workers to the scene.

``I got out of the helicopter, and my legs started shaking,″ Dr. Miroslav Gusnir told the Czech news agency CTK. ``Unfortunately, we had very little to do, mostly dispose of dead bodies.″

By late Sunday, rescue work had been completed and a lone policeman stood beside the wreckage. Rescuers set fire to one of the freight cars to get rid of the wood and make it easier to move. The roof of the local train hung over a freight car that had slammed into it at high speed.

The dead included 10 men and eight women, rail officials said. Two of them were rail workers. Many of the dead were young people in their early 20s from nearby villages who were heading to a dance.

Josef Basal, general manager of the state-owned Czech Rail, said rail workers were trying to connect four cars _ two loaded with scrap metal, one with wood, and a mail car _ to a train in Cachnov when the accident occurred.

The car wheels were not blocked properly, and when the train bumped the cars it sent them racing down the hill. A rail worker tried to run after the four runaway cars to put on an emergency brake, but tripped and fell, he said.

There was no radio in the local train, so the driver could not be warned. He saw the cars only after they rounded a bend just before slamming into the train.

``Everything points to a certain lack of discipline,″ Basal said.

Jaroslav Kocourek, an official at Czech railways central office in Prague, said the cars may have been going as fast as 60 mph when they slammed into the train. They struck the front of the train and rammed almost all the way through it.

The local train was a single car that combined a locomotive and passenger seats. It was carrying young people from neighboring villages heading to a dance.

Endangerment charges were filed against three railway employees, who, if convicted, face up to 15 years in prison.

The railroad is plagued with low productivity and financial losses. A nationwide railroad strike was averted Wednesday after the government gave in to wage demands from disgruntled rail workers.

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