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Sunday, 28 March 2021

At least 19 killed, 185 injured in Sohag train crash

At least 19 people were killed and 185 were injured after two trains collided on Friday in Sohag, Health Minister Hala Zayed said in a statement. Initial reports suggested the death toll was at 32, but the ministry revised the figure to 19 after, Zayed told El Hekaya’s Amr Adib (watch, runtime: 6:42). The National Railways Authority said that “unknown individuals” had pulled the emergency brakes on one of the trains, causing it to stop and be rear-ended by the other. Rail traffic started moving again yesterday in southern Egypt, one day after the accident, the railways authority said in a statement.

The rail network has seen "decades of neglect and no development or maintenance to a very dangerous extent,” Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly said in a statement (watch, runtime: 00:56). The government has been investing bns in modernizing the network but still has much work to do, Madbouly said, warning that similar accidents could happen until the government completes the railway overhaul plan.

The state has earmarked investments worth EGP 225 bn to revamp Egypt’s 10k-kilometer rail network, Transport Minister Kamel El Wazir said at a presser yesterday in response to the accident. El Wazir focused on the planned work on the country’s existing rail network, which includes railway signaling modernization.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating and the House Transport Committee has formed a subcommittee to carry out its own probe. The group will review a detailed report today before passing it to the House speaker later in the day, Mahmoud El Dabaa, head of the subcommittee, told Al Mal yesterday.. The prime minister has doubled the financial compensation to EGP 100k for the families of the deceased and EGP 20k-40k for those injured, while those with permanent disabilities will be paid a fixed pension.

El Sisi has vowed a “deterrent penalty” for whoever caused the collision, and to end the “pattern of such disasters," according to an Ittihadiya statement.

Calls for political accountability: While the House of Representatives has the authority to withdraw confidence in El Wazir over the collision, this move would require proof that the transport minister committed gross negligence that directly led to this incident, House Transport Committee Chairman Rep. Alaa Abed told Kelma Akhira’s Lamees El Hadidi. Abed appeared to pour cold water on Lamees’ calls to take a hard line with the authorities responsible — rather than going after individual employees, such as the train conductor — saying that the overhaul of the country’s ailing railways need years to fix and that the government is moving faster than was initially expected (watch, runtime: 6:30).

The Senate appears to be taking a less lenient approach, with Sen. Akmal Nagaty telling Salet Al Tahrir’s Azza Mostafa that railway development has been a priority for the Sisi administration and has received plenty of funding, making it difficult to understand why these incidents still happen (watch, runtime: 4:22). Deputy head of the Mostaqbal Watan Party Hossam El Kholy isn’t convinced that removing the minister will actually do any good (watch, runtime: 6:28), but El Wazir is “ready to step down” if lawmakers determine he is responsible and that his departure would benefit the country, he told Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa (watch, runtime: 15:45).

A troubled history: With infrastructure that has suffered years of underinvestment, Egypt is no stranger to rail accidents. A crash at Cairo’s main Ramses station killed over 31 people and injured over 40 just two years ago. Then-transport minister Hisham Arafat stepped down after the crash and El Wazir was appointed as his replacement. Almost 11k railroad accidents occurred between 2008 and 2017, and at 1,793 accidents, 2017 had the highest annual total in at least 15 years, according to government data cited by the New York Times.

The train crash is getting widespread coverage in the international press this morning: Bloomberg | Reuters | Washington Post | Al Arabiya.

IN OTHER TRANSPORT NEWS- Tenders for new signaling systems get second wind: A tender for modernizing the signaling system and track upgrade works along the Cairo-Beni Suef segment of Egypt’s rail network will be issued next month, which was previously postponed until international financing was secured, Al Shorouk reports, citing an unnamed Transport Ministry official. The tender, which was modified to include additional 15 kilometers of railway, is being re-offered after the World Bank has recently approved providing a USD 440 mn loan to finance the project, the source said.

The Transport Ministry will look into Mitsubishi’s second offer to supply 23 trains for Cairo Metro Line 4, after the Japanese conglomerate’s initial bid was earlier dismissed for being too high, Al Shorouk, citing an unnamed Transport Ministry source. The value of the new offer was not disclosed. The bid would be part-financed by a USD 1.2 bn loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which is being used to construct the line.

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