CAIRO (AFP) – The driver of a speeding Egyptian train and his assistant had both left the driver’s cabin when it crashed into another train last month, the prosecution service alleged on Sunday (April 11).
The prosecutor also alleged that the assistant of the other train, which was stationary, and a track signalman were under the influence of the powerful painkiller tramadol, and that the former had also used cannabis.
At least 20 people died and 199 were injured in the March 26 crash near Sohag in southern Egypt, according to the authorities’ latest count which had already been revised several times.
Video images caught on a surveillance camera show the moving train hitting a stationary train at speed, sending one carriage hurtling into the air, in an immense cloud of dust.
According to an investigative report cited by the prosecutor on Sunday, the driver and his assistant “were not in the driver’s cabin” at the time of the crash, “contrary to their claims”.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has vowed to hold to account those responsible for the latest of several deadly train accidents in recent years.
Transport Minister Kamel el-Wazir – a former general named to the post after a deadly 2019 train collision – has blamed the latest crash on human error.
“We have a problem with the human element,” he told a TV talk show, where he pledged to put in place an automated network by 2024.
At least eight people, including the driver of the moving train and his assistant, were arrested shortly after the crash in the village of Samaa Gharb, 460km south of Cairo.
One train was travelling between the southern city of Luxor and Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, and the other was en route between the southern city of Aswan and Cairo.
After the disaster, a military conscript who was on the Cairo-bound train told AFP that the second train struck the one he was travelling on about 15 minutes after his had come to a stop.
Egyptian rail disasters are generally attributed to poor infrastructure and maintenance.
One of the country’s deadliest train crashes came in 2002, when 373 people died as a fire ripped through a crowded train south of Cairo.
The African Development Bank announced a loan of 145 million euros (S$231 million) on Tuesday to improve safety on Egypt’s rail network, following the latest disaster.
The bank said the money would be used “to enhance operational safety and to increase network capacity on national rail lines”.
“The planned upgrades are expected to benefit low-income Egyptians, about 40 per cent of the population, who rely on trains as an affordable mode of transport,” it said in a statement.
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