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Up to 172 feared killed in Austrian train fire

Rescue teams have gathered near the tunnel where the train is trapped

(Keystone)

Up to 172 people are thought to have died after a funicular train caught fire in a tunnel in the Austrian Alps. Eight passengers managed to escape from the train, which is trapped deep inside a mountain.

Austrian state television said all but the eight passengers who escaped were thought to have suffocated. It added that the train was carrying an estimated 180 passengers.

The fire occurred inside the 3,200 Kitzsteinhorn mountain, near the town of Kaprun, which lies southwest of Salzburg.

The governor of Salzburg, Franz Schausberger, described the incident as a "catastrophe of unprecedented proportions".

A huge rescue operation, involving 13 helicopters, is underway to try to reach the passengers.

The director of funicular transport in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee, Bernhard Pfammatter, told swissinfo that he was surprised to hear of the fire. "The materials used in the construction of such tunnels and trains are typically fire-resistant," he said.

He added that he was not aware of any similar incidents in Switzerland over the past 20 years, and that "statistically funicular railways are the safest means of transport".

The mayor of Kaprun, Norbert Karlsboeck, told Austrian television that the fire started at around 0900 local time, when the train was about 600 metres into the tunnel.

He said the cause of the fire was not known.

There have also been no details about the nationalities of the victims, although the Austrian Red Cross said Austrians and Americans were known to have been travelling on the train.

The incident comes in the wake of last year's tragedy in the Mont Blanc road tunnel between France and Italy, when 40 died after a truck caught fire.

swissinfo with agencies

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