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Photograph: EPA/UWE LEIN

At least eight people are dead and another 90 injured after two commuter trains collided head on and partially derailed near the southern German town of Bad Aibling on Tuesday, police said.

One of the two train drivers is among the eight casualties, Bavarian broadcaster BR reported. The other is still missing but not believed to have survived the crash, which occurred at 0550 GMT on a rail track next to the Mangfall River, a police spokesman said.

At least 90 people were injured - 40 of them seriously. Fifteen are in critical condition. Police said it was likely the death toll would rise further and that authorities were still struggling to gain an overview of the situation.

Eight helicopters were transporting people with serious injuries to nearby hospitals. Those with less severe injuries were being treated at the scene. A lifeguard service was taking patients to the opposite side of the river for treatment.

Helicopters were also seen lifting victims in body bags to the other side of the river.

"At the scene of the collision, one can only see debris. Rescue workers are climbing around and pulling people out," Bavarian broadcaster BR quoted a rescue worker as saying.

The man added that 10 to 15 metres at the front of each train had been destroyed in the collision and that both trains had partially derailed.

The commuter trains were less crowded than usual due to the fact that Bavarian school children are currently on holiday for Carnival, police said.

The reason for the head-on collision, which occurred at 0550 GMT, remains unclear. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn said the accident happened on a curve in the tracks where trains are allowed to travel up to 120 kilometres per hour.

The Upper Bavarian Rail Service issued a statement.

"[This] is a huge shock for us. We are doing everything to help the commuters, their relatives and staff," chief executive Bernd Rosenbusch was quoted as saying.

Police were due to hold a press conference at 1100 GMT. Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt was due to arrive in Bad Aibling around the same time.

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