Peo­ple blame gov­ern­ment for deadly train ac­ci­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY AN­DRE F. RADZISCHEWSKI

BUENOS AIRES | Shock over last week’s deadly com­muter train crash has turned into outrage at Pres­i­dent Cristina Fer­nan­dez’s gov­ern­ment af­ter re­ports of a vic­tim be­ing left in the wreck­age for days and ig­nored warn­ings about the rail­way’s safety.

The body of Lu­cas Mengh­ini Rey, 20, was found late Fri­day, 57 hours af­ter the Sarmiento line train, which con­nects the Ar­gen­tine cap­i­tal with its sub­urbs, slammed into a bar­rier at Once ter­mi­nal, killing 51 and in­jur­ing more than 600.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials had told Mr. Mengh­ini Rey’s fam­ily that all bod­ies had been taken to the morgue. His rel­a­tives had searched dozens of Buenos Aires hos­pi­tals and dis­trib­uted thou­sands of fliers.

The Min­istry of Se­cu­rity said he was not found ear­lier be­cause he had been trav­el­ing “in a place off lim­its to pas­sen­gers.”

Maria Lu­jan Rey, Mr. Mengh­ini Rey’s mother, said Sun­day that the at­tempt to “turn the vic­tim into the cul­prit” re­pulsed her.

Crit­ics high­lighted the case as the tragic cli­max of what they view as Ms. Fer­nan­dez’s in­abil­ity to fix the cap­i­tal’s over­crowded and out­dated train sys­tem. They say the gov­ern­ment’s deal­ings with the pri­vately owned op­er­a­tor, Trains of Buenos Aires, (TBA) are marked by cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence.

Since 1995, TBA has held the con­ces­sions for the Sarmiento and Mitre com­muter rail lines, and last year ben­e­fited from some $32 mil­lion in gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies, ac­cord­ing to the Am­bito Fi­nanciero busi­ness daily.

Its own­ers, broth­ers Clau­dio and Mario Cirigliano, hold stakes in sev­eral other highly sub­si­dized trans­porta­tion ven­tures, and are said to have close ties to the Fer­nan­dez ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Le­an­dro De­spouy, the head of a con­gres­sional over­sight body, said that fre­quent warn­ings about TBA’S “de­plorable” safety con­di­tions were ig­nored, but that the com­pany never lost its con­ces­sions, un­like other op­er­a­tors.

In fact, a Na­tional Gen­eral Ac­count­ing Of­fice re­port specif­i­cally men­tioned the poor state of the brakes on TBA trains as early as 2008, Mr. De­spouy said, adding that the re­port would have al­lowed the gov­ern­ment to re­scind its con­tract with TBA.

“[The crash] could have been an­tic­i­pated and pre­vented,” he told TN tele­vi­sion. “[TBA] has demon­strated that it has not changed and has no in­ter­est in chang­ing.”

On Sept. 13, there was a ma­jor ac­ci­dent on the Sarmiento line when the bar­rier at a cross­ing did not lower com­pletely, caus­ing a col­li­sion be­tween two trains and a city bus that killed 11 and in­jured 228.

From 2002 to 2011, the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Reg­u­la­tion Com­mis­sion had fined TBA some $15 mil­lion for 451 safety vi­o­la­tions, the Clarin news­pa­per re­ported.

The gov­ern­ment took con­trol of TBA’S op­er­a­tions this week but so far has ig­nored wide­spread calls to re­scind its con­ces­sion.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the Feb. 22 crash, Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Juan Pablo Schi­avi blamed the ac­ci­dent on bad luck and lo­cal cus­toms.

If the crash had hap­pened on a hol­i­day or if fewer pas­sen­gers had crowded in the first two cars — as he said Ar­gen­tines tend to do to exit a train more quickly — the con­se­quences would have been less grave, Mr. Schi­avi said.

His com­ments were re­ceived with dis­be­lief and ridicule among Mrs. Fer­nan­dez’s friends and foes alike.

Al­berto Fer­nan­dez, Cab­i­net chief to Mrs. Fer­nan­dez’ late hus­band and pre­de­ces­sor, Nestor Kirch­ner, called the com­ments “ab­so­lutely un­for­tu­nate” and “hard to tol­er­ate.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A pro­tester de­stroys turn­stiles dur­ing ri­ots at a rail sta­tion in Buenos Aires on Fri­day, two days af­ter the coun­try’s dead­li­est train wreck in decades on a com­muter line.

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