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October 26, 2009

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Water buffalo caused fatal train crash

AN errant water buffalo caused two Egyptian passenger trains to collide at high speed south of Cairo, killing 18 people and wounding 39, the country's Health Ministry announced yesterday in a revised toll.

The first passenger train stopped after hitting the buffalo, which had wandered onto the track late Saturday, and was then rear ended by a second train going at full speed.

Water buffalo are common farm animals in Egypt's rural areas.

A Health Ministry statement corrected the earlier toll given on Saturday in media and police reports that 25 were killed and 55 injured.

An eyewitness said the first train hit the buffalo and its owner in Girzah district of 6th of October province. The Health Ministry statement said the injured were rushed to four medical centers and were in a stable condition.

The official MENA news agency said Prosecutor General Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud ordered the formation of a technical committee to determine the reasons behind the accident.

The train that caused the collision was headed from Cairo to the southern city of Assuit, while the one ahead of it was traveling from Giza province to the oasis town of Fayoum, MENA said.

Egypt has a poor safety record on its railways, and there are several fatal accidents each year, usually blamed on poorly maintained equipment.

The country's worst railway disaster took place in February 2002 when a train heading to southern Egypt caught fire, killing 363 people.

More recently, a passenger train barreling toward a station collided with a second train in August 2006, killing 58 people. The train belonged to the country's oldest and most dilapidated third-class train service.

The crash stirred a wave of outrage among Egyptians over the poor state of transportation infrastructure. The transportation minister, Mohammed Mansour, acknowledged after the accident that the rail system was in need of a major overhaul and was severely underfunded.

The incident prompted the government to approve an immediate allocation of US$860 million to develop the rail infrastructure, plus another US$600 million in loans to the sector later in the year.


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