Indonesia probes deadly train crash that highlights poor infrastructure, lax safety standards

By Kuncoro Wijayanto, AP
Saturday, October 2, 2010

Indonesia investigates train crash that killed 36

PETARUKAN, Indonesia — Police were investigating a train crash Sunday that killed 36 people and injured dozens, putting a spotlight once again on Indonesia’s aging infrastructure and poor safety record.

The pre-dawn accident occurred Saturday as many passengers were sleeping.

A train from the capital, Jakarta, plowed into the rear of another that was sitting at a station in Petarukan, a coastal city in Central Java province, knocking several carriages off the track.

The force of the crash woke Anwar Sumarno, a university student, with a bang. The lights went off in his cabin and he could hear people screaming.

“At first I was so shocked I couldn’t move, but then I grabbed my backpack and shoved my way outside,” said the 24-year-old, who had been sitting near the front of the idle train.

“Bloody corpses were hanging from the carriages. … There was nothing we could do,” he said, as he described the twisted debris littering the area. “It was total confusion.”

Investigators were trying to determine Sunday if human error or mechanical problems were to blame, said Maj. Gen. Edward Aritonang, the local police chief, adding that even sabotage had not been ruled out.

Nine people were being questioned, he said, including the two drivers.

“The main thing we want to know is why the two trains were in the same lane,” said Tatang Kurniadi, who heads the National Transportation Safety Commission.

Indonesia has been hit by a series of plane, train and ferry accidents in recent years that have killed hundreds.

Experts say the country’s dilapidated infrastructure, poor law enforcement, corruption and a tendency to ignore even basic safety standards were partly to blame.

Pilots from one now-defunct airline told The Associated Press they were occasionally forced by financially strapped owners to take off even when they knew they were putting lives at risk.

Rusty ferries are often overloaded with passengers whose names do not appear on manifests. And, though it’s illegal, hundreds sit openly on the roofs of trains rattling through Jakarta and beyond.

It took rescuers more than an hour to reach the scene of Saturday’s crash.

Villagers, railway officials and some passengers used their bare hands and bamboo sticks to search for survivors until they arrived.

Among those pried loose was a pregnant woman, who suffered injuries to her arms and legs, said Sumarno, the university student.

The 36 bodies were taken to three nearby hospitals, said Tri Yuniasari, a spokeswoman for the Hasyim Ashari hospital who was helping keep tallies.

More than 40 people were hurt, some with severe injuries and broken bones, doctors and nurses said.

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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