August 21, 2006

Egyptian train crash kills dozens

By Aziz El-Kaissouni

QALYOUB, Egypt (Reuters) - A train crash killed and injured
dozens of people in a Nile Delta town north of Cairo on Monday
in Egypt's worst rail disaster for four years.

Casualty figures varied widely. Egypt's health minister put
the toll at 58 dead and 143 injured. A security source had
earlier said up to 80 had died. An investigation was under way.

State news agency MENA said the accident happened early in
the morning when a train driver apparently ignored a signal and
one commuter train plowed into the rear of another.

The head of the state railway authority blamed "human
error" for the crash, MENA reported.

"The first train was stopped. We looked and saw the other
train coming from behind, screeching," said Khalil Sheikh
Khalil, who had disembarked from a minibus nearby moments
before the crash.

"We kept saying: 'Driver, driver, a train is coming.' So
the (train) driver moved up 15 meters, and while he was moving,
the two trains impacted," he told Reuters.

Khalil said the engine of the rear train burst into flames
on impact. A Reuters photographer at the scene said one of the
trains had derailed and was lying on its side. It had split
into four parts and appeared to have burned.

The crash ripped seats from the train carriages, which were
littered with clothes and shoes. The carriages had been crushed
together like an accordion.

"A loud crash awoke me. One of the trains had derailed and
people were scattered on the floor. I called the authorities
and they told me I was crazy," said Osama Abdul Haleem, who
lives near the crash site.

"I told them there are dead and dying there on the ground."


Rescue workers scrambled to evacuate the casualties,
loading them onto some two dozen ambulances. Blood was
spattered across the wreckage of both trains.

By midday, rescuers were still recovering bodies, using a
bulldozer to pull apart a metal side panel to reach a body
lodged in one of the carriages. Rescuers found body parts in
the rubble under one of the carriages.

Hundred of bystanders and passengers' relatives anxious for
news converged on the wreckage in a semi-rural area about 20 km
(12 miles) north of Cairo.

Security troops linked arms to keep the crowds at bay.
Officials called on people over loudhailers to give blood, and
a queue formed in response. Crowds also berated a government
official at the scene, chanting "negligence" and scuffling with
police who tried to disperse them.

Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said the government would
pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($871) to families of the dead and
1,000 pounds for the wounded. It would also cover funeral

An opposition politician at the scene said government
lenience over a string of previous transport accidents meant
there was no motivation to maintain safety standards.

More than 1,000 people died in February when a ferry sank
in the Red Sea. Investigations primarily blamed the captain,
who died, for not following safety procedures, but the public
directed its rage at the ferry owner, a member of parliament.

Monday's crash was the deadliest railway accident in Egypt
since about 360 were killed in 2002 when fire ripped through
seven carriages of a crowded passenger train.

That accident was the worst in 150 years of Egyptian rail
history and prompted the resignation of the transport minister
and the head of the state railway system.