BADRASHEEN, Egypt (AP) — Egypt’s president on Tuesday pledged to hold officials accountable for a deadly train wreck that fueled anger against Mohammed Morsi’s administration for failing to carry out reform and overhaul the nation’s deteriorating public services.
Nineteen Egyptian conscripts were killed and more than 100 others were injured early Tuesday 12 miles south of Cairo. Part of the rear car rested by the side of the road. Its seats were stained with blood. Shoes and remains of the recruits’ clothes and food were scattered for several kilometers along the tracks.
“My heart is bleeding for Egypt’s martyrs and the injured and God willing, this accident will be the last to sadden Egypt and Egyptians,” Morsi said while visiting the injured at a military hospital in suburban Cairo, the same place where Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak is held.
The train was carrying some 1,300 new recruits of the Central Security Forces, an anti-riot force made up of young draftees performing their required military service, usually drawn from the poorest and least educated. The conscripts are used as cannon fodder in crackdowns on protesters – and their lowly status is so well known that at times even protesters show sympathy for them.
They were coming to Cairo from impoverished Assiut province in the south. Witnesses said the last carriage of the train jumped the tracks, smashed into another train, and then – still connected to its own train – was dragged for several kilometers.
The cause of the crash is still being investigated. A military helicopter hovered over the scene as Prime Minister Hesham Kandil inspected the damage.
Injured soldiers at Hawamdiya hospital said the train stopped several times on the journey from Assiut, until it crashed. Twice at night, the driver stopped the train for an hour to check it for a malfunction.
Recruits said the train cars were crowded and many filled the corridors, slept on shelves overhead and three people sat in many seats designed for two.
Train wrecks and other transportation disasters are common in Egypt because of outdated infrastructure, faulty maintenance and corruption.
The crash came two months after 50 children died when a train crushed their bus in southern Egypt.
While many train accidents in Egypt are blamed on an outdated system that relies heavily on switch operators instead of automated signaling, the deaths among the country’s most impoverished and underprivileged sparked anger among many Egyptians who say that Morsi’s government – only six months in office – has done little to improve life for ordinary Egyptians.
Later in the day, angry protesters gathered at the main train station in Alexandria along the Mediterranean Sea. They hurled stones at a train and briefly clashed with security. Six protesters trying to stop all trains from moving were arrested. A security official said that the protesters were released later in the day. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group from which Morsi hails pointed fingers at Mubarak’s regime as the one that left Egypt with heavy burden.
“Repetition of shocking train accident is evidence on the near complete collapse of the infrastructure after years of corruption under the rule of the ousted president,” wrote Saad el-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood political arm called the Freedom and Justice Party.
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