Luxury train for tourists derails in South African capital, 2 dead

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Luxury train derails in South Africa, 2 dead

PRETORIA, South Africa — A luxury train carrying foreign tourists, most of them Americans, derailed Wednesday in South Africa’s capital, killing two crew members and injuring dozens of people as coaches flipped and crumpled against one another.

The voyage had begun in Cape Town and was close to its destination when 17 coaches of the Rovos Rail train derailed just outside a station in Pretoria, said Johan Pieterse of the capital’s community safety department. Pieterse said two people died at the scene.

“Patients were strewn all over the scene,” said Werner Vermaak, spokesman for a private ambulance company ER24, the South African Press Association reported.

One of the victims was pregnant. Emergency worker Chris Botha told SAPA the pregnant woman went into labor immediately after the accident, possibly from the force of the impact, but neither she nor her baby survived.

The accident comes just seven weeks before hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists are expected to descend upon South Africa for the World Cup.

The passengers included 44 Americans, four each from France, South Africa and Britain, and three from Germany, for a total of 59, said Rovos Rail Managing Director Rohan Vos. Another Rovos Rail official had said earlier 55 passengers were aboard.

Vermaak said power tools had to be used to cut some passengers from the wreckage.

The Cape Town-Pretoria route can cost from about $1,500 to nearly $3,000 per passenger for the two-day trip.

Rovos Rail offers holiday trips across Africa recalling the golden age of travel. The trains combine Edwardian period features such as wood paneling with modern conveniences like air conditioning and hot showers.

The Rovos Rail website says the trains can carry as many as 72 passengers in 36 cabins. The routes were established in 1989 and run with restored locomotives. The oldest engine in the fleet is a 76-ton “Class 6″ locomotive originally built in 1893; the youngest is a 225-ton steam engine built in 1954.

The train travels around South Africa and to Namibia and Tanzania.

The train also traverses the famed “Cape to Cairo” route, a monthlong journey between Cape Town near the southern tip of South Africa and Egypt’s bustling capital. That journey can cost up to $56,000 per passenger.

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