A commuter train collided with a freight train in Harare on Thursday morning, killing one person dead and injuring 55 others, with 17 of the casualties later reported to be in serious condition at hospitals in the Zimbabwean capital.
Transport Minister Christopher Mushowe, who rushed to the scene of the accident, told reporters that human error caused the accident as someone in a control room of the Zimbabwe National Railways put the two trains on the same track.
Witnesses said one passenger coach was reduced to mangled metal and blood-stained seats, with shoes and clothes strewn over the railway tracks.
Many Zimbabweans have turned to the rail system for transport not only because it is cheaper than bus lines, and even more so lately because private transport operators have pulled buses from the roads to protest fare cuts imposed by the government.
However, sources in the national railway told VOA that train travel has become more dangerous due to equipment failures and the loss of experienced personnel.
Railway sources said the Central Traffic Control system that coordinates movements of trains to prevent collisions covers only 20 kilometers of the Harare-Mutare line.
Sources said the entire rail system has declined due to a lack of spare parts and the emigration of key personnel, leading to numerous fatal accidents. An August 2006 accident outside Victoria Falls caused by signal failure left five people dead.
The biggest rail accident in the country’s history occurred on the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls route in 2003. Fifty people died in that collision between a packed passenger train and tankers full of flammable liquid, blamed on a communications failure. This March, 35 people died when a freight train rammed a commuter bus in Harare.
Police spokesman Andrew Phiri told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it’s too early to pinpoint the cause of the latest accident.
Dr. Richard Mariga, head of the accident and emergency service at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, said his staff was able to handle the influx of injured.
Many of the most seriously injured were rushed to Harare Central Hospital.