Wed, 19 Apr 2000

Four dead, eight injured in a massive train collision

KARAWANG, West Java (JP): Four people were killed and at least eight others, including a baby girl, injured in a three-train collision on a busy section of track in Karawang early on Tuesday, officials said.

Services to and from Jakarta were disrupted throughout Tuesday.

The accident occurred when two freight trains collided in Klari district, on the capital's outskirts. An Argo Bromo express passenger train from Surabaya to Jakarta smashed into the wreckage several minutes later.

"The four fatalities have been identified as illegal passengers on the freight trains," spokesman of state-owned PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI) Gatot Wibowo said.

Most of the injured were people living along the track who were hurt when five cars veered off the rails and hit their semipermanent homes.

Witnesses and officials said the accident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. on the track, which is about 70 meters from Poncowati station in Poncowati village.

The collision caused a seven-hour delay for all train services on the tracks, which connect Jakarta to several major cities in West Java, Central Java and East Java. Thousands of passengers were stranded.

"However, since 3 p.m. (Tuesday) we have opened one of the tracks and hopefully the train traffic will return to normal by 6 p.m. today," Gatot said.

He added the repaired railway track underwent safety tests before it was passed for resumption of services.

"We apologize for the delay and the inconvenience as all passengers on trains from and to Madiun, Semarang, Surabaya, Bandung, Cirebon and Jakarta had to wait until the track was back in working order," Gatot said.

Hundreds of local residents rushed to the site to assist the rescue team.

Sahid, 50, a resident of Jl. Tenggiri in North Jakarta, is the lone fatality to have been identified.

The injured were taken to Karawang Hospital. They were identified as seven-month-old Umi, Miswanto, 25, Kustiah, 20, and Mardiono, 25. Four others suffered minor injuries.

Umi was found alive under debris of her home and the train, Kardi, an eyewitness, said.

"We heard a thundering noise just before the cars hit the houses. The baby was found held tightly in her mother's arms. Both of them are in hospital now," Kardi said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a team of rescue workers, engineers and laborers along with locals were trying to pull the wreckage of the trains off the track and repair the line.

The accident began when a Baja Satwa cargo train heading for Surabaya from Jakarta was hit from behind by another freight train bound for Bandung.

"Minutes after the first accident, the Argo Bromo (express train) crashed into the collided trains. The freight trains, which usually carry livestock or other cargo, were empty," Gatot said.

Three axles of the Argo Bromo train were broken in the accident but none of its occupants were reported injured.

The Argo Bromo passengers were hastily evacuated by bus to Jakarta.

Gatot said the accident occurred because the driver of one of the freight trains ignored a red light.

"He may have been sleepy as it was 4:30 a.m. But still, he violated the rules and caused these accidents to happen."

Police said an investigation was under way, but declined to speculate on the cause of the accident.

Gatot said that since the fatalities in the accident were illegal passengers, PT KAI would not make insurance payments to their next of kin.

"We will, however, contribute to their burial," he said.

PT KAI spokesman in Bandung Akhmad Sujudi said the accident caused at least Rp 50 million in losses as six Parahyangan trains and Argo Gede passenger services to Jakarta were canceled.

"The total losses will be huge as the delay for all trains caused losses of hundreds of millions of rupiah, excluding the material losses in the accident," Akhmad said. (25/edt)