Critics decry decline of health and safety in Turkey after nine die in commuter train crash

Critics decry decline of health and safety in Turkey after nine die in commuter train crash
A Turkish high-speed train of the type that operates on the Ankara-Konya line.
By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2018

Three employees of Turkey’s state railway were on December 13 detained on suspicion of negligence after at least nine people were killed and 84 were injured when an early morning high-speed commuter train smashed into a service engine carrying out a track inspection and then crashed into a pedestrian overpass at a station in Ankara.

One passenger, Ayse Ozyurt, told IHA news agency that the crash occurred 12 minutes after the train left the main station in Ankara and was yet to gain maximum speed. “The train was not fast at that time yet,” she said. “Suddenly there was a frightening breakage … and the train was off the rail.”

Three engine drivers were thought to be among the dead and at least three of the 206 passengers remained in a serious condition in hospital. Turkish television broadcast pictures of emergency workers in snowy conditions trying to free people from carriages trapped beneath the wreckage of the overpass at Marsandiz train station, around eight kilometres from Ankara’s main station.

In a tweet, Yunus Yener, chair of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, said signalling issues had been flagged on the Ankara-Konya line for some time.

The cause of the crash was, however, not yet known, although engineering and rail workers’ unions have repeatedly said cost-cutting and the axing of route inspector jobs five years ago have created safety issues.

There have been eight serious train accidents in Turkey since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) took office in 2002, including a derailment near the city of Corlu in July that killed 24 people. It occurred after torrential rains caused part of the rail tracks to collapse. An investigation into the Corlu incident was later quashed by AKP officials.

Last month 15 people were injured when a passenger train collided with a freight train in the central province of Sivas.

A statement from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said that those responsible would be brought to justice.

Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “The Turkish government is a big fan of mega-projects, gleaming new buildings, infrastructure expansion, because those things signify progress. There is not the same focus on quality of service or proper management or maintenance.

“Health and safety has basically gone out of the window and more construction workers are dying [in infrastructure projects], not because the statutes are not on the books but because the rules are not being enforced.”

Officials have conceded there were at least 27 deaths of workers during the construction of Istanbul’s new airport, which was recently inaugurated.

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