Workers blame faulty equipment for deadly Giza rail crash

Ayat Al-Tawy, Monday 18 Nov 2013

Watchmen at Dahshour crossing say alarm bells and warning lights were broken; train driver says crossing wasn't closed after he sounded alarm; death toll reaches 27

Journalists and others inspect the wreckage of vehicles struck by a train at the site of a deadly train accident near the village of Dahshur, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Railway workers have blamed faulty equipment and negligence for a train crash near Cairo that killed at least 27 people.

A goods train hit a pickup truck and a minibus crossing the tracks at Dahshour in Giza shortly after midnight on Monday, state news agency MENA reported.

At least 34 others were injured, with some in critical condition, health ministry officials said.

Two watchmen at the crossing told Al-Ahram's Arabic news website that the manual alarm bells and warning lights for approaching trains were out of service.

The train driver said he sounded warning bell dozens of times for the crossing to be closed, but to no avail.

The train, which was travelling at 50km/hr when the accident took place, came to a halt 1km beyond the crossing, the driver added.

The two watchmen, and the train driver and his assistant are currently being questioned by prosecutors.

Initial investigations have shown the crossing lacked chains to prevent vehicles crossing the track, but the alarm lights were functioning properly.

In addition, the watchmen were not at the scene when the accident took place, contrary to their own account, investigators said.

Accident survivor Nawal Hamdy, 42, told Al-Ahram she lost four relatives in the collision which took place at around 1am.

Speaking from a hospital bed in Giza, Hamdy said 45 members of the same family were returning to Fayoum from a wedding party in Cairo when the train, which was carrying building materials, crashed into a truck heading in the opposite direction before slamming into their minibus.

"In less than a moment we lost consciousness until we found ourselves in hospital," she recalled.

The family of each person killed in the crash will receive LE5,000 in compensation and each injured person will receive LE2,000, Giza governor Ali Abdel-Rahman said.

The Egyptian railway system is infamous for its poor safety record and frequent accidents. The service is crumbling from outdated and poorly maintained equipment.

Transport Minister Ibrahim El-Demeiry was serving in the same post in 2002 when a fire swept through seven carriages of a passenger train in Upper Egypt, killing at least 360 people – the country's worst train disaster.

April 6 Youth Movement called for the interim government's removal and for the real culprits to be prosecuted, instead of "scapegoating" junior workers.

"If the minister was held accountable for the Upper Egypt train accident [in 2002], today's accident would not have taken place."

Egyptians have long complained that successive governments have done little to improve transport safety.

In November 2012, a train crashed into a school bus in Assiut, Upper Egypt, killing 51 children. The transport minister and the head of the railways resigned as a result.

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