WARSAW // Two trains have collided head-on in southern Poland, killing 15 people and injuring 56 - the country's worst train disaster in more than 20 years.
President Bronislaw Komorowski said yesterday when rescue efforts are over he would announce a period of national mourning.
Several of the passengers in Saturday's were foreigners, including from Ukraine, Spain and France, but none of them were among the dead or seriously injured, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.
"This is our most tragic train disaster in many, many years," he said.
An unnamed passenger interviewed on TVN24 said he felt the force of the collision.
"I hit the person in front of me. The lights went out. Everything flew," he said. "We flew over the compartment like bags. We could hear screams. We prayed."
Rescue workers brought in heavy equipment yesterday to try free a body from the mangled wreckage. The injured are being treated in several local hospitals. A doctor in one, Szymon Nowak, said many of the injured were in a serious condition.
"It's a very, very sad day and night in the history of Polish railways and for all of us," Mr Tusk said.
The accident in the southern town of Szczekociny comes less than three months before millions of football fans will start criss-crossing the country - many by train - to watch football matches at Euro 2012, co-hosted with Ukraine.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation into how one of the trains ended up on the wrong track, but officials said it was too soon to draw any conclusions.
One train was travelling from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw in the north, while the other - on the wrong track - was heading south from Warsaw to Kraków. Maintenance work was being done on the tracks before the accident happened, officials said.
President Komorowski visited the crash site yesterday, as well as hospitals where the injured were being treated.
"The scale of this phenomenon is so large that there should be nationwide mourning," he said.
The tragedy was the worst involving trains since 1990, when 16 people were killed in a collision between two trains in the Warsaw suburb of Ursus.
Poland's deadliest train disaster was in 1980, when 65 people died when a freight train collided with a passenger train near Otloczyn.