August 21, 2006

Egyptian train crash kills 58, injures many

By Aziz El-Kaissouni

QALYOUB, Egypt (Reuters) - A train crash killed 58 people
and injured scores more in a Nile Delta town north of Cairo on
Monday in Egypt's worst rail disaster in four years.

An investigation was underway after a train driver
apparently ignored a signal and one commuter train plowed into
the rear of another early on Monday, state news agency MENA

Egyptian media reported that the head of the state railway
authority, Hanafi Abdel-Qawi, was fired over the crash and his
deputy suspended pending the results of the probe. Abdel-Qawi
had earlier 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 left a minibus nearby moments before the crash.

"We kept saying: 'Driver, driver, a train is coming.' So
the (train) driver moved up 15 meters (yards), and while he was
moving, the two trains impacted," he told Reuters, adding that
the train's engine burst into flames on impact.

Egypt's health minister put the death toll at 58 and 143
injured, some critically. A security source had said up to 80
had died, but lowered his estimate to match the official tally.

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 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."


Two dozen ambulances were used to evacuate the casualties.
Blood was spattered across the wreckage of both trains, and
rescuers had to use a bulldozer to pull apart a metal side
panel to reach a body lodged in one of the carriages.

Hundreds 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, on the outskirts of Qalyoub.

Security troops linked arms to keep the crowds away.
Officials used loudhailers to ask for donations of blood, and a
queue formed in response.

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 injured. It would also cover funeral

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif demanded the transport minister
put together a team to conduct an investigation and deliver
answers on the causes of the crash within 48 hours. He said
anyone found negligent would held to account.

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.

Crowds also berated a local government official at the
scene, chanting "negligence" and scuffling with police who
tried to disperse them.

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 360 people were killed in 2002 when fire ripped through
seven carriages of a crowded passenger train.