Cairo station fire: Prosecutors summon railway chiefs as probe becomes national issue

Public outrage drives investigation on negligence behind deadly blast

Security forces and onlookers gather at the scene of a fiery train crash at the Egyptian capital Cairo's main railway station on February 27, 2019.  The crash killed at least 20 people, Egyptian security and medical sources said.
The accident, which sparked a major blaze at the Ramses station, also injured 40 others, the sources said.
 / AFP / Mohamed el-Shahed
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Egyptian prosecutors have summoned dozens of railway officials for questioning, from the chief executive to safety personnel,  over last week’s deadly blast and fire at Cairo’s main train station.

The scale and pace of the investigation reflect the attention paid by Egypt's leadership to the February 27 accident in which at least 22 people died, and public outrage over the negligence behind it.

Egyptians from all walks of life have since last Wednesday discussed how this nation of 100 million should end its culture of negligence.

They also want to know whether more should have been invested to modernise a railway network used by an estimated 300 million people a year.

“The real crime is inside us. Negligence is mightier than terrorism or the Muslim Brotherhood,” said pro-government talk show host Amr Adeeb. “The accident is the result of negligence accumulated over 50 years.”

The government of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is spending billions to overhaul infrastructure and build a network of roads.

It is also building new cities, including a capital in the desert east of Cairo.

Mr El Sisi said about $14 billion (Dh51.4bn) was needed to modernise the railways, but that sum would not be easy to recoup if the state continued to heavily subsidise train fares.

The government said that the accident occurred when the driver of an engine car loaded with 6,000 litres of diesel left the vehicle to argue with another driver over a soft collision.

With its engine running, the car broke free and sped to the heart of the station at an estimated speed of 120kph before slamming into barriers at the end of a platform, prosecutors said.

An explosion and fire ripped through the station and a building just beyond the platform was badly damaged.

The government was quick to show its concern and resolve to take measures to stop the loss of life in train accidents.

The presidential spokesman has repeated that Mr El Sisi was discussing the progress of the investigation with top officials and following up on the medical care given to the dozens of injured.

He has not spoken publicly about the accident since it happened, when he ordered a thorough investigation and proper medical care for the injured.

Egypt’s chief prosecutor, meanwhile, said six people, including the two drivers, were detained on charges of manslaughter and damaging public property.

He said drugs tests for all six came back negative except for the assistant of the driver who abandoned his vehicle.

But the investigation has not been restricted to determining the criminal liability of the railway employees. Prosecutors have summoned 38 members of staff for questioning, along with the railway’s chief executive.

Meanwhile, a team of prosecutors is looking into the inner workings of the station to determine the causes behind its failures.

Official figures show that hundreds of railway-related accidents take place every year, but only deadly or major ones are publicised.