CAIRO, Egypt—At least 58 people were killed and 142 injured Monday in a high-speed crash of passenger trains north of Cairo that was Egypt's deadliest rail disaster in years and raised concern over the government's safety standards.
The two trains, whose passengers were mostly rural state workers and police officers headed to work in Cairo, were on the same track when one smashed into the other from behind in the city of Qalyoub, in the Nile Delta region. Survivors and rescue workers described a gruesome tangle of bodies trapped under heavy iron wreckage.
"All the people around me were dead and covered with newspapers and when I woke up, I found they had covered me with newspapers, too," said Rabah Abdelaty Rehan, 31, whose minor injuries were treated at a hospital in Cairo.
He had been sitting across from a traffic police officer whose head was severed.
"May God have mercy on his family and give them patience," Abdelaty said sadly.
Transportation Minister Mohamed Mansour said the crash was under investigation. "It could be human error, but we have to wait for the results," he said.
Survivors of the crash and relatives of the dead were outraged at the poor condition of the trains, which they described as stuffy, enclosed cars with no ventilation. Poor Egyptians who rely on trains because they cost less than taxis or buses said they were used to suffering from winter cold and summer heat.
"We will file a complaint against the railway authority," said Khaled Abdelfattah, whose brother, Hesham, suffered broken bones and internal bleeding. "This is so unjust."
Mansour acknowledged that the railway authority was in bad shape and needed renovation, and he blamed recent budget cuts of an estimated $268 million. He said the government had been drawing up a five-year plan to address the concerns.
"We admit there are problems, and since last March we've said the state railway authority needs major improvements," Mansour said. "The trains, the railway, the signals, all need repairing."
The Egyptian government announced that it would pay compensation to the victims and their families: $1,000 for those killed in the crash and $500 for the injured.
In an apparent effort to stave off criticism, officials from President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party visited survivors in the hospital and pledged to contribute money and coffins to the families of those who died.
"We came to check on the injured, to see if they need anything," said Mohamed Haggag, a Cairo councilman and a member of the ruling National Democratic Party.
Transportation tragedies aren't rare in Egypt. Most are caused by negligence and poor maintenance, according to independent reports and investigations.
At least 1,400 Egyptians died in February when a ferry carrying passengers from a Saudi port sank in the Red Sea. Clashes later broke out between riot police and the victims' families, who were infuriated over the government's delay in responding to the disaster and its withholding of information on the whereabouts of their relatives.
Egypt's worst train disaster was in February 2002, when 361 passengers were killed after a train caught fire.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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