Safety warnings about Turkish express train were ignored

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The Independent Online

Turkey's transport minister, Binali Yildirim, was under pressure to resign yesterday after it emerged that the government had ignored warnings about a new express train that derailed in north-western Turkey on Thursday night, killing 36 people and injuring 81 in one of the country's worst train disasters.

Turkey's transport minister, Binali Yildirim, was under pressure to resign yesterday after it emerged that the government had ignored warnings about a new express train that derailed in north-western Turkey on Thursday night, killing 36 people and injuring 81 in one of the country's worst train disasters.

As workers began clearing the debris from the mangled tracks, union leaders, opposition politicians and newspapers said the government had neglected advice that its showcase train was too fast for Turkey's antiquated tracks.

"Serial murder," the daily Hurriyet newspaper said.

At least four carriages overturned on Thursday evening near the village of Mekece, about halfway between Istanbul and Ankara. As workers began clearing the tracks, paramilitary police detained the conductor and his assistant for questioning. The cause of the derailment is unclear but government officials ruled out sabotage and said the accident had probably been caused by a mechanical fault.

The new Ankara to Istanbul line, which was launched in June by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the first stage in an extensive government plan to renovate the country's outdated rail system. At the time of the launch, many Turkish scientists and experts expressed concern about the line's safety.

The professor of engineering at Istanbul's Yildiz Technical University, Aydin Erel, said he had warned the government on 14 July that the tracks were not up to standard. "Our infrastructure was not suitable for such speed," Mr Erel said. "Our warnings were ignored." The state-run rail authority rejected the criticism, insisting that the lines were appropriate.

Passengers said that the train was travelling well above the 47-50 mph cited by officials on Thursday night.

"All of a sudden the train began to speed up as we went around a bend," said Ilhan Cabuk, a survivor. "Some wagons went off the tracks and turned over."

Another witness said: "I have no idea how many died, but all I know is that there weren't enough body bags."

The dead reportedly included a large number of children.

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