Trains crash in southern Egypt, killing at least 32

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Egyptians look for remains of victims around mangled train carriages at the scene of a train accident in Sohag, Egypt, Friday, March 26, 2021. Egyptian officials say two trains collided in southern Egypt in the latest in a series of deadly accidents along Egypt's troubled rail system, which has been plagued by poor maintenance and management. (AP Photo)

CAIRO – Two trains crashed Friday in southern Egypt, killing at least 32 people and injuring 165, authorities said in the latest of a series of deadly accidents on the country’s troubled railways.

Someone apparently activated the emergency brakes on the passenger train, and it was rear-ended by another train, causing two cars to derail and flip on their side, Egypt’s Railway Authorities said, although Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly later added that no cause has been determined. The passenger train was headed to the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, north of Cairo, rail officials said.

Video showed twisted piles of metal with passengers covered with dust trapped inside – some bleeding and others unconscious. Bystanders removed the dead and laid them on the ground nearby.

One passenger was heard shouting on the video, “Help us! People are dying!” A female passenger appeared to be upside down, squeezed under the seats, and was crying, ”Get me out, boy!”

Hazem Seliman, who lives near the tracks and heard the crash, said he initially thought the train had hit a car. When he arrived at the scene, he said he found the dead and injured on the ground, among them women and children.

“We carried the deceased and put the injured into ambulances,” he said.

More than 100 ambulances were sent to the scene in the province of Sohag, about 440 kilometers (270 miles) south of Cairo, Health Minister Hala Zayed said, and the injured were taken to four hospitals. Injuries included broken bones, cuts and bruises.

Two planes carrying a total of 52 doctors, mostly surgeons, were sent to Sohag, she added at a news conference in the province, accompanied by Madbouly, who added that a military plane would bring those needing special surgery to Cairo.

Chief Prosecutor Hamada el-Sawy was on the scene to investigate the crash, he said.

“The (railway) service has been neglected for decades to an extent that made it quite outdated and extremely dangerous,“ Madbouly told reporters. “We have spent billions to upgrade the railway but we still have a long way to go in order to complete all the required work.”

The government will pay the equivalent of $6,400 in compensation to each family that had a relative killed, Madbouly said, while the injured will get between $1,280 to $2,560, depending on how badly they were hurt.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he was monitoring the situation and that those responsible would receive “a deterrent punishment.”

“The pain that tears our hearts today cannot but make us more determined to end this type of disasters,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Egypt’s rail system has a history of badly maintained equipment and mismanagement, and official figures said there were 1,793 train accidents in 2017.

In 2018, a passenger train derailed near the southern city of Aswan, injuring at least six people and prompting authorities to fire the chief of the country’s railways. The same year, el-Sissi said the government needed about 250 billion Egyptian pounds ($14.1 billion) to overhaul the rail system. Those remarks came a day after a passenger train collided with a cargo train, killing at least 12 people.

A year earlier, two passenger trains collided just outside Alexandria, killing 43. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.

Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after fire broke out in a train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.