Update: Death toll rises to 51 in Assiut train-bus collision

Update: Death toll rises to 51 in Assiut train-bus collision

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Sat, 17/11/2012 - 17:21

State TV has reported that the number of people killed in a collision between a school bus and a train has reached 51, with most of the victims being schoolchildren.

Earlier Saturday, a train crashed into a school bus crossing the tracks near Manfalut in Assiut Governorate. At the time of writing, accounts differ as to whether or not the safety barrier at the railway crossing had been lowered.

Also on Saturday, President Mohamed Morsy accepted the resignation of Transportation Minister Rashad al-Matiny. Judicial sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud has summoned Matiny and Egyptian National Railway Authority head Mostafa Qenawi for questioning.

Mahmoud also ordered prosecutors to find witnesses to testify about the events surrounding the crash.

An official source at the Cabinet told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Prime Minister Hesham Qandil would travel to Assiut Saturday to monitor the situation. Qandil will be accompanied by Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin, Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Abdeen, and Health Minister Mohamed Mostafa Hamed.

Security sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that security forces arrested an Egyptian Railways worker in Assiut for failing to close a train barrier at the crossing, allowing the bus to cross the tracks into the path of the oncoming train.

The Egyptian Railway Authority disputed the security services’ account of the story, however, claiming that the barrier was closed and that the bus driver drove through it.

"The barrier was turned on with lights and bells, and guarded [by a] sentry and a traffic police officer, but the [bus] driver’s storming it and not waiting for the train to pass led to the collision,” the authority said in a statement.

Egypt's roads and railways have a poor safety record and Egyptians have long complained successive governments have failed to enforce basic safety standards, leading to a string of deadly accidents.

Manfalut, the site of the crash, is located near Assiut, about 300 km (190 miles) south of the capital.

"They told us the barriers were open when the bus crossed the tracks and the train collided with it," said Mohamed Samir, a doctor at Assiut hospital where the injured were taken, citing witness accounts.

He said the bodies of many of those killed were severely mutilated, indicating the force of the crash.

"I saw the train collide with the bus and push it about 1 km (half a mile) along the track," said Ahmed Youssef, a driver.

Another witness also said the train hit the bus with great force, smashing up the bodies.

Transportation Minister Rashad al-Matiny offered his resignation, which President Mohamed Morsy was considering, state media reported.

Morsy ordered his ministers to offer support to the families of those killed, the official news agency said. Prime Minister Hesham Qandil ordered that those responsible for the crash be investigated.

Families of those involved in the crash protested at the scene, the state news agency reported. Officials sought to reassure them that the case would be investigated and they would receive help, it said.

Earlier this month, at least three Egyptians were killed and more than 30 injured in a train crash in Fayoum, another city south of Cairo. In July, 15 people were injured in Giza, close to the capital, when a train derailed.

Egypt's worst train disaster was in 2002 when a fire ripped through seven carriages of an overcrowded passenger train, killing at least 360 people.

Many more have been killed in rail accidents since then despite pledges from successive government to improve safety. Accidents involving multiple deaths are also common on Egypt's poor road network.