LONDON -- Investigators blamed a signal malfunction for a three-train collision that crushed passenger coaches like soda cans, killing 36 people and injuring 111 in Britain's worst railway accident in 21 years.
The death toll was expected to rise Tuesday when body parts retrieved from the twisted blue coaches are identified, authorities said.
One passenger train slammed into the rear of another near Britain's busiest rail intersection during rush hour Monday morning and an engine hauling empty coaches plowed into the wreckage, killing at least 36 people and injuring 111, authorities said.
'There was absolute carnage,' said Mark Barthel, 27, a survivor whose injured arm was splinted with a policeman's truncheon.
'If you can imagine the worst type of car accident, this is the same scene, only much larger,' said a British Rail spokesman. 'The carriages are twisted steel all over.'
Gordon Pettitt, British Rail's southeastern region general manager, said the accident was believed caused by a signal failure. The British Railways Board indicated the failure was 'a technical fault' resulting from construction work to replace old railway equipment.
It was the worst British Rail accident since 1967, when a train derailed near Hither Green in southeast London, killing 49 people. The tragedy Monday, which occurred just over a year after a London subway fire claimed 31 lives, raised new questions about the safety of Britain's rail system.
Unions said cost-cutting had jeopardized safety on the nation's railways.
'You're talking about pre-war signal boxes,' one official said. 'A lot of the equipment is held together by chewing gum and wire.'
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II expressed sympathy for the families of the dead and wished speedy recoveries for the injured.
In addition to the 36 bodies recovered from coaches, many of which were crushed like soda cans, London Ambulance Service spokesman Chris Webb said 'there are also seven bags full of bits.'
John Norris, a British Rail spokesman, said: 'Some of these bodies are very badly mutilated, like in your worst car crashes, and we've had to piece them together, matching body parts.'
Rescue teams dressed in flourescent colors worked frantically with torches and hydraulic separating devices to free trapped passengers. Medical teams and firefighters crawled inside the mangled wreckage to treat the injured.
Amputations had to be performed to free some commuters, Webb said. 'The wreckage is so bad, it is the only way they will get out.'
The accident occurred when a passenger train traveling from Poole in southwest England rammed into the back of a passenger train from Basingstoke that was stopped at a signal, said Jim Rowe, British Rail spokesman. Both blue and aluminum-colored trains were bound on the same track for Waterloo Station.
He estimated the Poole train, whose driver was killed, was traveling at 40 mph, although passengers said they believed the train was moving faster. The speed limit on the gently curving stretch of track is 75 mph.
A third train towing empty yellow boxcars slammed into the wreckage about a half-mile south of Clapham Junction, one of the busiest stretches of railway in the world. An average of 2,200 trains pass through Clapham Junction every 24 hours, according to The Guinness Book of Records.
British Rail accepted full responsibility for the accident, and said 'claims for compensation will be considered sympathetically and as quickly as possible.'
A British Railways Board statement said a preliminary investigation indicated 'the probable cause of today's tragic rail accident was a technical fault following preparatory work in connection with the Waterloo resignaling scheme.'
Transport Minister Paul Channon, who viewed the wreckage from a fire truck hoist, promised a full public investigation.
Rowe said about 1,500 passengers were aboard the 12-coach train from Poole and the eight-car train from Basingstoke. Many people were standing in the aisles of the crowded trains bound for the capital.
The violent, telescoping impact of the collision made it difficult to determine how many coaches were tangled in the wreckage. At least five cars were overturned, one of them tossed like a toy on a steep embankment that lined the crash site.
Sections of coaches serrated by the impact were lifted away by a huge crane as rescuers searched into the night for bodies, hampered by the embankment that left little room to manuever.
'The train was doing about 60 mph when it hit the one in front with an almighty crash. The roof caved in and the wheels came up through the floor,' said Barthel, who was aboard the Poole train.
'The man opposite me was trapped by his head, and we had to climb over him to get out and find help.'