Over 150 rescue workers rushed to the scene of the crash, and 40 people have been sent to hospital [AFP]

At least eight people have died after a passenger train collided with a goods train in eastern Germany, police and firemen said.

Up to 20 other people were seriously injured in the accident, which occurred at Hordorf, near Oschersleben, in Saxony-Anhalt, late on Saturday.

Firemen said that a further 20 people had suffered minor injuries, while a police spokesman said that a total of 40 people were evacuated to hospitals.

The passenger train derailed and landed on its side after the head-on collision, but did not catch fire.

More than 150 firemen, police and rescue workers engaged in the rescue effort at the scene. A few hours after the accident, they were seen working under arc lights around the passenger train, according to the AFP news agency.

The regional train was the HarzElbeExpress (HEX) travelling between Magdeburg and Halberstadt.

The causes of the accident were not immediately known, Joerg Puchmueller, the northeast region spokesman for the Veolia group which runs the HEX line, told AFP.

There is a single line running between Magdeburg and Halberstadt and maintenance work was scheduled for the night, the HEX website said.

Traffic was interrupted on the line and bus shuttles have been set up, a HEX staff member said via telephone.

The Veolia spokesman said the train had a capacity of about 100 but could not say how many were on board at the time of the collision.

The goods train also belonged to a private company.

Police set up an emergency number that could be called by families of the victims.

Germany has been hit by several deadly train accidents in the past few years, with crashes in 2006 and 2003 killing 23 and six people respectively.

By far the worst accident, however, took place in June 1998, when an InterCity Express (ICE) train derailed, killing 101 and injuring 88 at Eschede, in northern Germany.

Source: Agencies