Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Zimbabwe train collision kills one, injures another 83

AP, HARARE

A crowded commuter train slammed into a freight train on Thursday, killing one person and injuring 83 passengers, a third of them seriously. Railroad officials said signals were not working, Zimbabwe state radio reported.

The driver of the commuter train -- dubbed the "Freedom Train" because it is the cheapest and most effective commuter transport in a service subsidized by the government -- relied on a verbal go-ahead that the line ahead in western Harare was clear, then the train crashed head-on with an oncoming freight train carrying blocks of granite used in construction, the radio said.

not clear

It was not immediately clear if it was one of the drivers who died on the spot. Injured passengers pulled from buckled and derailed cars were ferried to hospitals and clinics in the capital already facing acute shortages of medicines and other supplies.

In the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, the state railroad has been hit by breakdowns, shortages of equipment and thefts of signaling gear it has been unable to replace.

no signals

One recent official report said along one 300km stretch of the railroad through the countryside, signals were working for just 20km and train crews used handwritten cards left at stations and flags and wooden paddle signs to signal train movements.

The Freedom Train was put into service in 2003 in the morning and evening on the sole west-to-east line of rail through Harare after lack of gasoline and spare parts led to private road transport shortages. The Freedom Train fare is about one-fourth of the bus fare.

Overcrowding on the train increased sharply since a June 26 government order to cut prices of all goods and services, including commuter fares and gasoline. The order drove many private minibuses off the road and left long lines of stranded commuters at bus stops and along highways leading into cities across the country.

more gasoline

The government on Thursday said it was making more subsidized gasoline available to bus operators ahead of Zimbabwe's upcoming Heroes Day holiday weekend to enable city dwellers to travel, mainly to their traditional rural homes.

The holiday from today through Tuesday honors guerrillas killed in the war of liberation that ended colonial era white rule in 1980, sweeping President Robert Mugabe to power as the nation's first black leader. It is among the most cherished holidays in Zimbabwe.

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