Officials: 39 dead in Russia train derailment, sabotage a possible cause

By Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Officials: 39 dead in Russia train derailment

BOLOGOVSKY, Russia — An express train carrying hundreds of passengers from Moscow to St. Petersburg derailed, killing at least 39 people and injuring scores of others, emergency officials said.

The state-run railway company said the derailment late Friday could have been the result of sabotage, raising fears that the luxury train, popular with business executives and government officials, was the target of a terrorist attack.

The last three cars of the 14-car Nevsky Express left the tracks in the Tver province northwest of Moscow, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Minister Sergei Shoigu said Saturday morning that 39 people were dead and 18 missing.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told reporters at the scene that 95 people were being treated in hospitals in the Tver and Novgorod region.

State-run Vesti-24 television showed grainy footage hours after the derailment of a dented passenger car flipped on its side, laying across the tracks.

A Vesti-24 reporter called the wreck a “terrible catastrophe,” saying he was looking at a “warped” carriage and could see other damaged cars as ambulances drove in and out of the cordoned-off site.

Russian Railways said the cause was not yet determined but one possibility was sabotage. Russian agencies cited unidentified officials as saying a small crater was found at the site of the wreck, leading to speculation that the dertailment could have been caused by a bomb blast.

Russian trains have been the targets of bombers in the past.

An explosion on the Moscow-St. Petersburg line in 2007 derailed a passenger train and injured 27 people. Two suspects have been arrested and authorities are searching for a former military officer they believe was behind the blast, but the motive was unclear.

A December 2003 suicide bomb attack on a commuter train near the Russian republic of Chechnya killed 44.

At least 12 people were injured in June 2005 when a bomb derailed a train headed from Chechnya to Moscow. An explosion in a bathroom on a Moscow-St. Petersburg train in 1997 killed five people.

The 14-car Nevsky Express was carrying 633 passengers and 20 railway personnel during its Friday night run to St. Petersburg, the emergencies ministry said.

Terrorism has been a major concern in Russia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as Chechen rebels have clashed with government forces in two wars.

Violence connected with conflicts in the Caucasus have repeatedly erupted in other parts of Russia in the past decade, including deadly bombings in the Moscow subway and attacks that brought two passenger jets down in 2004.

But Russia has also been plagued by deadly accidents resulting from its deteriorating Soviet-era infrastructure, a high incidence of alcohol abuse and from negligence.

The derailment occurred near the border between the Novgorod and Tver provinces, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Moscow and 150 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of St. Petersburg, authorities said.

Russian news agencies reported that some injured passengers were taken by train and bus to hospitals in the area and to St. Petersburg for medical attention.

State-run Vesti-24 broadcast live from the national crisis response center center in Moscow. President Dmitry Medvedev ordered authorities to help the victims and determine what caused the derailment, state media cited the Kremlin as saying.

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