Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has vowed that the government will continue to upgrade railway projects to prevent deadly train accidents such as the crash that took place on Friday in Sohag, Upper Egypt, that killed at least 32 people and injured 165.
However, Madbouly warned that similar accidents might occur until the government completes the overhauling of the railway system.
At a press conference in Sohag, Madbouly promised "deterrent punishment" to the culprits behind the deadly collision after the conclusion of investigations conducted by the prosecutor-general.
Before the press conference, Madbouly had wrapped up a tour to visit the injured and follow up on measures to handle the disaster in Sohag.
Madbouly was accompanied by a number of ministers, including the health and transportation ministers, during his visit to Sohag.
The PM also announced during the conference that the government will disperse EGP 100,000 in compensation to the families of the deceased as per presidential orders.
Meanwhile, a compensation sum of EGP 20,000 - 40,000 will be disbursed to the families of the injured depending on their degree of injury, he added.
Minister of Health Hala Zayed said all those injured in the train collision have been evacuated from the site of the crash and transferred to hospitals in the governorate.
She said most of the injured are suffering from various fractures.
She added that a medical team from Cairo was dispatched to Sohag to assist in treating the injured.
Earlier on Friday, two trains had collided in the Tahta township in Sohag governorate, killing at least 32 people and injuring more than 150.
The disaster took place as the government undertakes several mega-projects to upgrade the country's railway system, the oldest and longest railway network in the region.
“The state has started upgrading the [railway system], which has suffered from decades of negligence, in the past four years," PM Madbouly said.
"We have spent hundreds of billions of pounds to upgrade the system,” Madbouly added.
However, “it is not a problem of funding. We are confronting an issue of ‘time lag’ since our modernisation efforts are happening at the same time that the system has to continue operation to serve millions of people daily,” he said.
The prime minister added that the coronavirus pandemic hampered the efforts to upgrade the railway system, which include the modernising of lines and control rooms, due to delays in deals with foreign companies.
Dealing with a poor record
Egypt's railway system has had a poor safety record for decades, with deadly collisions and accidents that are often blamed on poor maintenance and management a frequent occurrence.
Officials have repeatedly stressed that billions of pounds and several years are needed to upgrade the country’s railway network to provide better service to the public and prevent deadly accidents.
The government has been implementing ambitious multi-billion projects to replace hundreds of ailing train carriages and modernise an obsolete signalling system.
In February 2019, a blaze broke out at Cairo's Ramses Railway Station following a train crash, killing 31 people and injuring 17.
In August 2017, a train collision outside Alexandria killed 41 people and injured some 179.
Proseuctor-General Hamada El-Sawy traveled to Sohag on Friday afternoon to inspect the scene of the crash.
This came only a few hours after he had ordered an urgent investigation into the causes of the deadly collision and instructed “all bodies not to issue any statements on the reasons behind the collision," before the results of the prosecution's investigations are announced.
Transportation ministry forms technical committee
The transportation ministry had said earlier on Friday that the collision occurred after “an emergency brake in some carriages [of Train 157 Luxor-Alexandria] was activated by unknown individuals," forcing the Luxor-Alexandria train to come to a sudden stop only to be hit from behind by an incoming train, Train 709 Aswan-Cairo.
The collision caused two carriages from the Luxor-Alexandria train and the tractor of the Aswan-Cairo train to derail and flip over, leading to the casualties, the transportation ministry added.
The ministry said a technical committee has been formed to determine the cause of the crash, with efforts underway to resume train traffic on the line.
Sisi vows "deterrent punishment"
Shortly after the collision, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi vowed “deterrent punishment” for the culprits of the deadly train collision, stressing the determination to end a “pattern of such disasters."
“Whoever caused this tragic accident, whether through negligence or corruption or other reasons, will face deterrent punishment with no exceptions, reluctance, or deferment,” El-Sisi said in a post on his Facebook page.
The president also expressed condolences to the families of the victims and promised suitable compensations to their families.