Poland defends rail safety after crash

Poland’s government insisted yesterday that rail travel is safe in the country despite a train collision on Saturday that killed 16 people.

The assurances come months before masses of sports fans will enter the country for a major soccer tournament — many of whom will crisscross the nation by train.

The crash, Poland’s most deadly rail tragedy in more than two decades, raised new questions about the safety of a state-run rail network, which has been modernised in recent years.

Poland still has a rail system marked by the legacy of the communist decades, but the country has been working to upgrade trains and tracks.

The trains collided head-on in a shower of sparks and mangled metal, killing 16 and injuring dozens near the southern town of Szczekociny, just north of Krakow. Both trains inexplicably ended up running on the same track.

Polish leaders said it was the worst rail tragedy since 16 people were killed in a 1990 collision near Warsaw.

Some routes today are notorious for being slower than they were even before the Second World War. Poland has been pushing to change this even as it builds skyscrapers, highways and stadiums.

Slawomir Nowak, the transport minister, insisted train travel is safe and the government makes safety a priority as it improves the system.

The collision occurred on a stretch of track that was recently modernised, but officials said it was too early to speak about a cause.

Nowak said those who plan to use the trains this summer during Euro 2012 should not worry.

Poland is co-hosting the tournament with Ukraine, and games will be held in several Polish and Ukrainian cities, which will force some fans to travel large distances — either by train, plane, bus or car.

The president, Bronislaw Komorowski, called for two days of national mourning today and tomorrow.

Interior minister Jacek Cichocki said rescue officials believe that they have retrieved all bodies from the wreckage.

An American woman was among those killed, while Ukrainians, Moldovans and a Czech citizen were among those brought to hospitals.

Some 51 people remained in hospital yesterday. Three of them were in serious condition.

A woman living near where the crash occurred said she was standing at her window when the two trains collided, creating a “terrible, terrible noise — like a bomb going off”.

One train was travelling from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw in the north, while the other — an Intercity train travelling 95km/h on the wrong track — was heading south to Krakow, officials said.


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