High-speed rail crash in Turkey leaves 36 dead

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At least 36 people died and about 68 were injured when a packed Turkish high-speed train derailed on its way from Istanbul to Ankara yesterday.

At least 36 people died and about 68 were injured when a packed Turkish high-speed train derailed on its way from Istanbul to Ankara yesterday.

In one of Turkey's worst rail disasters, four of the train's carriages overturned near Pamukova in Sakarya province, 110 miles from Istanbul, said the state railway authority's deputy head, Ali Kemal Ergulec.

Early estimates put the death toll as high as 139 but that was later revised. Mehmet Ayci, of the state railways agency, said: "Four wagons were derailed and fell on their sides. We don't believe speed was the cause, because the train was travelling slower, between 75-80km per hour [45-50mph], in this area."

The accident was believed to have been caused by a mechanical fault. Transport officials said one of the rear wagons may have derailed first, pulling others off the line.

Soldiers quickly arrived at the site to help the injured. Oguz Dizer, a journalist travelling in the area, said he saw several bodies near the tracks. "The scene is one of carnage," he said. "There are people lying all over the place."

Feridun Turan, the mayor of Pamukova, said he arrived at the scene soon after the crash. He said: "There were heads separated from bodies." Mr Turan said conditions were "very chaotic".

A state railway official, Ali Kemal Ergulec, said the train, carrying 234 passengers, including children, and nine personnel, would have been travelling at a normal speed in the area because the tracks at Pamukova were not geared to carry high-speed vehicles.

Muammer Turker, heading the crisis centre, said the authorities were not ruling out sabotage. "We are assessing every possibility," he said.

The high-speed train began operating on 4 June amid controversy. Critics said Turkey's decrepit train system was in need of complete modernisation and was not capable of running high-speed services. The former transport minister Oktay Vural said: "Using the old track and simply making changes to accelerate the train was a grave mistake. Railway experts who said it was not possible were ignored."

Suleyman Karaman, the head of Turkey's railway authority, said a team had been sent to the crash site to try to determine the cause of the derailment. He quoted the train's driver as saying the train was travelling at normal speed and that he "could not understand what had gone wrong".

At the site of the crash, people were searching for survivors and one man was seen trying to open a jammed door. But darkness was hampering rescuers, forcing soldiers to search with flashlights.

The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cancelled a trip to Bosnia scheduled for today and travelled to the area by helicopter. Mr Erdogan said: "This is a huge disaster, and our sadness is great... I express my condolences to the families of the victims."

The densely populated region, close to the epicentre of an earthquake in 1999 which killed more than 18,000 people, has many hospitals, allowing the injured quick access to treatment.