The Guardian | Published: February 27, 2019
Train crash causes huge blaze after fuel tank explodes
Incident triggers resignation of transport minister
Firefighters at the scene of the crash at Ramses station in Cairo, Egypt on Wednesday. Photograph: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images
At least 25 people have been killed and dozens more injured after a train crashed at high speed into a barrier at Cairo’s main station, causing its fuel tank to explode and triggering a huge fire.
Egypt’s transport minister, Hisham Arafat, resigned hours after the prime minister, Mostafa Madbouly, promised a tough response if any negligence was found. Egyptians have long complained that the government has failed to deal with chronic transport problems and poorly maintained railway lines.
Railway officials said the single railcar was travelling too fast when it collided head-on with the barrier. At least 47 people were injured, many of whom suffered severe burns and are now in critical condition.
The explosion and fire blasted through people on the platform in the busy Ramses station in downtown Cairo. A surveillance video shared by local media showed the moment of impact when the car barrelled past people who were then engulfed in flames and smoke.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and firefighters struggled to get the flames under control. Video from surveillance cameras showed flames ravaging the station’s interior.
Ashraf Momtaz, a general railway inspector, told the Associated Press that there were several explanations for what happened, one of which was that the train was accelerated to a high speed by someone who then jumped.
It was not immediately clear if the engine had a driver at the time of the crash, Momtaz said. “The railcar takes time to [gather] speed so there is a chance that someone set it on full speed before leaving,” he said, adding that investigators were considering all scenarios.
“There are records that show which driver is in which railcar,” he said. In general, he said, the accident suggested “negligence from the driver and supervisors.”
Madbouly, who was quick to visit the site, promised a tough response. He said: “Any person found to be negligent will be held accountable and it will be severe.” Officials often blame the rail network’s poor maintenance on decades of negligence and a lack of funds.
Hours later the cabinet announced that the prime minister had accepted the resignation of Arafat.
Egypt’s general prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, ordered an extensive investigation and sent a team of investigators to the station.
The Ramses district is among the busiest and most crowded areas of the Egyptian capital. The state railway agency briefly halted all train traffic and ordered the evacuation of the station.The accident triggered adebate among Egyptians, many of whom blamed the government for not improving railway services even after a series of deadly accidents. Several noted previous statements by Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, expressing reservations about spending too much money on improving trains, citing a lack of funds.
Egypt’s railway system has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management with official figures showing 1,793 train accidents in 2017.
In July 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.
In March last year, the president said the government lacked about 250bn Egyptian pounds (£10.7bn) to overhaul the rundown rail system. Sisi spoke a day after a passenger train collided with a cargo train, killing at least 12 people, including a child.
In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.