Egyptian prosecutors say they found gross negligence by railway employees to be behind a deadly train crash that caused public outcry across the country, adding that drugs were allegedly involved.
The March 26 crash of two passenger trains in the governorate of Sohag, about 440km (270 miles) south of Cairo, was the latest in a series of deadly railway accidents in the Arab world’s most populous country. At least 18 people died and 200 others, including children, were injured.
Prosecutors last month ordered the detention of eight railway employees, including two train drivers, their assistants, the head of traffic control in neighbouring Assiut governorate, and three traffic control guards.
The findings, announced on Sunday in a detailed statement by the public prosecution, allege that a driver and his assistant deactivated the automatic train control system (ATC) before the collision. The ATC system is a mechanism that guides trains’ safe operation and involves speed control.
Prosecutors also allege a control tower guard smoked hashish and a train driver’s assistant used hashish and the opioid pain killer Tramadol, commonly sold as a street drug in Egypt. The statement did not elaborate as to whether drugs had impacted their decision-making at the time of the crash.
Prosecutors said they have not concluded their investigation.
Train wrecks and mishaps are common in Egypt, where the railway system has a history of mismanagement and badly maintained equipment and.
Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019, an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier in Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when more than 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train travelling from Cairo to southern Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has promised to hold to account those responsible for the latest of several deadly train accidents in recent years.
The African Development Bank announced a loan of 145 million euros ($170m) on Tuesday to improve safety on Egypt’s rail network, following the latest disaster.
The bank said the money would be used “to enhance operational safety and to increase network capacity on national rail lines”.
“The planned upgrades are expected to benefit low-income Egyptians, about 40 percent of the population, who rely on trains as an affordable mode of transport,” it said in a statement.