CAIRO: The transportation minister acknowledged serious problems in Egypt s railway system Wednesday amid intensifying criticism after a train collision killed at least 58 people, the latest in a series of deadly tragedies the past year.
The train collision came on the heels of the sinking of a Red Sea ferry on Feb. 3 that killed around 1,000 people and a fire last September in a theater in the southern city of Beni Suef in which 42 died.
All three disasters, whose victims were largely the poor, sparked accusations of government negligence and corruption, fueling discontent at a time when many feel President Hosni Mubarak has rolled back on promises of democratic reform and greater accountability for government officials.
Transportation Minister Mohammed Mansour on Wednesday described the train crash as a major catastrophe by all standards.
He told a parliament transportation commission that since he became minister in December, he has complained that the railway sector was facing problems and suffering from lack of funds, the state news agency MENA reported.
The government has approved an immediate allocation of LE 5 billion ($860 million) to develop the rail infrastructure, plus another LE 3.5 billion ($600 million) in loans to the sector later this year, he said.
The sector needs immediate financial support, he said, adding that a technical report will be announced within 24 hours and if there was anybody who has done wrong, he will be punished no matter what his position.
Mansour told a parliamentary committee he would dip into proceeds from the $2.9 billion sale of Egypt s third mobile phone license to help pay for the rail revamp. He said LE 5 billion ($871 million) would be drawn from the mobile proceeds, and the government would borrow the remainder of the total $1.5 billion that the overhaul is expected to cost. The money will pay to upgrade equipment, improve maintenance and revamp old engines or buy new ones, Mansour said. It would also go toward installing automated crossings and linking the rail networks by computer.
On the day of the crash, Mansour fired the director of the country s railways and suspended his deputy for three months.
The crash occurred Monday when a passenger train barreling toward a station just north of Cairo station collided with a second train. The trains belonged to the system s oldest and most dilapidated third-class service.
Two days later, Egyptian newspapers were still splashing giant pictures of the disaster across their pages. On its front page, the opposition Al-Wafd daily had pictures filling the front page, showing veiled old women weeping and men waiting with caskets to receive the bodies of loved ones. The government has killed our children, one headline read.
Pictures published in Wednesday s edition of Al-Mussawar magazine showing train s front crumpled in, while other train cars lay on their sides out of their tracks, at the rail station in the town of Qalyoub, 20 km north of the capital Cairo.
Egypt has poor safety records on its railways and there are several fatal accidents each year, usually blamed on poorly maintained equipment.
The worst recent disaster took place in February 2002, when a train heading to southern Egypt caught fire, killing 363 people. Agencies