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Calls for senior employees to be held accountable for Egypt train crash as assistant blamed for being stoned

Scene of a railroad collision in the Egyptian capital Cairo on 12 March 2020 [AFP/Getty Images]
Scene of a railroad collision in the Egyptian capital Cairo on 12 March 2020 [AFP/Getty Images]

There has been an outcry after the Egyptian public prosecutor held junior employees responsible for a train crash in Upper Egypt last month which killed 20 and injured 185 when a speeding train hit a stationary locomotive in Sohag, south of the capital.

The public prosecutor's investigation found that the signalman had been smoking hashish and the assistant train driver had taken the potent painkiller, tramadol.

Their investigation has also found that the main driver was not in the cabin at the time of the crash and that the assistant was in the driving seat instead.

A forensic medicine report found that the train driver and his assistant's injuries did not match their testimonies, that they were both in the drivers' cabin at the time of the crash.

Social media users questioned why the Railway Authority is not being held accountable and why investigations did not probe the role of Minister of Transport Kamel Al-Wazir, who has previously issued instructions to train drivers to drive fast.

READ: Rights group warns of rising number of prisons in Egypt

The driver and his assistant are being blamed for deactivating the automatic train control which limits the speed of the train, however Al-Wazir himself has issued instructions that the ATC device be deactivated because it forces the train to slow down.

Al-Wazir responded to calls for his resignation following the accident by asking: "Why should a minister leave when problems occur in his ministry?"

Egypt's railways are dilapidated and in desperate need of restoration. Hundreds of Egyptians have died over recent months in accidents observers say could be largely avoided if money was spent restoring the tracks.

In 2020 the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics said that there were more than 10,000 train accidents between 2013 and 2019.

The Sohag train crash was the fifth since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi assumed power following the 2013 military coup and renewed criticism on why the general has failed to prevent these lethal accidents.

In August 2017 Al-Sisi said: "Instead of paying EGP 10 billion to develop the railway, I prefer to deposit this amount in the bank where I will get 10 per cent benefit annually which will increase what I have by EGP 1 billion."

According to the World Bank, Egypt needs to spend around $10 billion on railway reforms.

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