Igandu Train Disaster

Tanzanian rescue crews labored on Tuesday to recover victims of a train crash that killed at least 200 people and authorities promised an inquiry amid worries the death toll could mount further.

Hundreds more were hurt when a runaway passenger train, hurtled backwards into a freight train on Monday.

People trapped inside the mangled wreckage of the train cars cried for help as darkness fell, 10 hours after the morning crash, said Betty Mkwasa, a reporter with Independent Television. Rescuers did not have the heavy equipment needed to cut through the twisted steel to free those trapped, she said.

Officials put the final death toll in the country's worst train disaster at 281 as rescue and recovery efforts at the crash site ended. The passenger train, which was carrying about 1,000 people, was climbing a steep hill when it apparently had a mechanical problem that sent it rolling for miles back down the track at high speed and into a freight train.

The train had travelled from Dar es Salaam to the state of Dodoma in Central Tanzania, had passed Msagali, and was nearing the city of Dodoma, when it began climbing the tracks at a hill called Igandu. It is believed that there was a fault with the train's brakes as it climbed the hill. The driver stopped the train near the summit of the hill, inspected and adjusted the braking system and climbed back into the cab. When he started the train again, the brakes failed totally, causing the train to roll, with great velocity, straight back down the hill, crashing into a stationary goods train waiting at the bottom. Local people joined with ambulance services to rescue as many as they could. The shortage of doctors at Dodoma hospital was so severe that the Tanzanian health minister, Dr. Anna Abdallah was called in to help with the upwards of 400 badly injured people. Rescue teams were also hampered by the lack of large cutting machinery or industrial equipment needed to cut or lift wreckage off injured people, which did not arrive until the evening.

Four days after the incident, the Tanzanian government released a statement to the effect that 281 people had been killed in the crash, or had subsequently died in hospital, although this figure was likely to rise, given the number of people critically injured. 88 bodies were never identified, and were buried in a mass grave outside Dodoma. The state owned railway company, Tanzania Railways Corporation, later presented payments of between 100,000 and 500,000 shillings to the families of the victims, a pay-out viewed with anger by some, who blame the TRC for the crash.

In the months running up to the accident, Tanzania had been searching for a private company to take over the dilapidated state railway system, and had been interviewing representatives of European and South African companies. It has been suggested by some that this speculation had caused a drop in the already low efficiency of TRC's employees, and a reduction in the amount of maintenance performed on the equipment, thus leading to a sudden brake failure. Eventually, the TRC was bought by the Rites Consortium of India.

There was also speculation, emphatically denied by both the organisation and the Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye, that the crash was sabotage committed by angry train union members, protesting the sale of the company. No evidence proving this has ever been provided.