Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi (R) and Minister of transportation Ibrahim Dmeeri (Photo: Ahram)
Hours after the collision that killed 27 Egyptians in a train crash south of the capital, Egypt's prime minister and transportation minister have distanced themselves from the accident, dubbing it a "human error."
In a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi stated that this is not the first of such "unfortunate" accidents to occur.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Ibrahim El-Dmeeri expressed cautious regret over the mistake that could lead to his resignation.
Almost one year ago to the day, 51 children were killed when a train crashed into their school bus in Assuit. Both the transport minister and the railway authority head were forced to resign as a result of that accident, which was blamed on a train signal operator who fell asleep on the job.
Beblawi added that an investigation was underway to determine who should be held accountable for Monday's crash.
Twenty seven people were killed early Monday when a cargo train ploughed into a truck and a minibus at a railway crossing near Dahshour in Giza governorate, 35 km south of Cairo. Another 34 people were injured in the accident, some of them in critical condition.
Local police chief Kamal El-Dali told state television that the minibus was carrying guests returning home from a wedding.
"This accident is one of many accidents that happen every day at the train crossings," El-Dmeeri 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 The service is crumbling from outdated and poorly maintained equipment. In Egypt's deadliest railway tragedy, the bodies of more than 360 passengers were recovered from a train after a fire in 2002.
Successive governments have formed fact-finding commissions to investigate these accidents, but they did little to shed light on the details and less still to bring about accountability.
"The state has put out a program to develop and secure the crossings, which will be completed by June of next year," El-Dmeeri said, adding that a bridge will be constructed at the Dahshour accident site so that cars do not have to cross the tracks.
The transportation minister said that only 891 train crossings in Egypt are official, whereas another 4500 are make-shift crossings established by local residents.
El-Dmeeri confirmed an earlier report by the Egyptian Railways Authority, which asserted that the Dahshour crossing was closed off by chains before the accident and that the warning lights were working properly.
"Vehicles ignored warning lights and chains blocking entry, and tried to drive through the crossing," the report stated.
However, 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.
Monday's accident comes as train services across the country resume operations following a three-month halt due to the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in July.
"I just wish that people would abide by the traffic guidelines, because we all suffered when the trains stopped," El-Dmeeri said.
"Civilians, drivers and everybody in this country should cooperate with us to keep this service going," added the one-time Mubarak-era minister who oversaw the minstry during the 2002 disaster.