44 dead as Iran trains collide
Forty-four people were killed and 103 injured when one Iranian passenger train collided with another at a station about 250 km east of the capital Tehran, state media reported. “I was sleeping when the crash happened. I thought it was an air strike ... When I opened my eyes, there was blood everywhere,” a hospitalized passenger told state television. State television footage showed four derailed carriages, two of them on fire and a spokesman for Iran’s Red Crescent, Mostafa Mortazavi, told the semi-official Fars news agency that firefighters were trying to control the blaze.
A senior health ministry official later announced via Tasnim news agency that rescue operations had been completed and the final death toll was 44. An investigation into the cause of the crash in the northern province of Semnan was continuing. Semnan provincial governor Mohammad Reza Khabbaz told Iranian television it appeared that a train entering the Haft-Khan station on the outskirts of Shahroud ploughed into another that had broken down there.
“The initial investigation suggests that a mechanical failure, possibly caused by cold weather, forced the express train, operating between the cities of Tabriz and Mashhad, to stop (at Haft-Khan),” Khabbaz said. Tabriz state governor Rahim Shohratifar told Tasnim that the moving train had 400 passengers. It was not clear how many passengers were on the stationary train. Fars earlier reported that 100 passengers had been rescued. Semi-official Mehr news agency said four of the dead were railway employees aboard the trains.
Later in the day, President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement offering his condolences to the victims’ families and assigned senior vice-president Eshagh Janahgiri to lead an investigation and identify those responsible for the incident. Meanwhile, the minister for roads and urban development, Abbas Akhoundi, postponed his visit to Turkmenistan to visit the site of the accident. A parliament representative for the region, Gholam Reza Kateb, hinted that the head of the Semnan train station may have mistakenly allowed the train to proceed prematurely.
Iran’s rail network aged badly under economic sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program, making it difficult to modernize rolling stock, and safety standards suffered. The sanctions were lifted in January after Iran reached a deal with world powers to limit its nuclear activity. Iranian trains have been involved in four collisions this year with road vehicles, including a crash with a truck in July that left around 30 injured near the Caspian Sea in the northern province of Mazandaran.
Collisions between trains have been rarer. In the country’s deadliest rail disaster, 328 people were killed when a train transporting sulfur, petrol and fertilizers exploded in northern Iran on Feb 18, 2004. Iran’s roads are also notoriously deadly, mainly because drivers show scant regard for rules, with 16,000 lives lost in the Iranian year between March 2015 and March 2016. — Agencies