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Train-minibus collision kills 15 in Turkey

A Turkish passenger train hit a minibus on Sunday, killing 15 on board, the state-run Anatolian news agency said. Turkish authorities charged a crew chief and two conductors for their alleged roles in an earlier derailment.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A passenger train slammed into a minibus rushing to cross its tracks Sunday in western Turkey, killing 15 people and injuring four, just days after the deadly derailment of a Turkish express train.

The minibus — carrying 19 passengers returning from a wedding party — was trying to cross the lines before the barriers came down, a railroad official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. No injuries were reported among some 200 train passengers.

The crash further highlighted concerns about the safety of the country’s aging railway after the derailment Thursday of a new, high-speed train about halfway through its trip from Istanbul to Ankara. The crash killed 37 people.

Officials also reported other rail accidents this weekend: A 15-year-old boy was killed Sunday when he fell from a train traveling with its doors open in an Istanbul suburb, and four cars in a 25-car freight train derailed in southern Adana province Saturday. No one was hurt.

Hoping to calm criticism
German railroad experts were examining the wreckage from Thursday’s derailment at the request of Turkish officials eager to quell criticism that the government backed a dangerous high-speed rail project despite known risks.

Experts from other countries had been invited to help investigate, the railroad official told AP, but it was not known when those teams would arrive.

Turkish officials would be available to answer questions but would not interfere with the German team’s investigations, rail authority deputy chief Erol Inal said, according to the Anatolia news agency.

The crew chief of the high-speed passenger train, Koksal Coskun, and two engineers, Fikret Karabulut and Recep Sonmez, were arrested late Friday and reportedly would face charges of negligence.

Railroad authorities may be liable
The chief prosecutor for the area, Mithat Kutanoglu, said railroad authorities could be arrested as part of the widening investigation.

“The investigation may not be limited to the engineers,” the Radikal newspaper quoted Kutanoglu as saying. “It could reach authorities.”

The derailment near the rural village of Mekece was among the worst train crashes in Turkish history and an embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who personally inaugurated the train last month despite safety concerns raised by experts.

Critics say that, in backing the express train project, the government disregarded concerns about Turkey’s rail system, some of which dates to the late 19th century. Few lines have been renovated as previous governments have focused on building roads instead.

The minibus accident happened when it crossed onto the rail line linking the western province of Aydin to the Aegean port city of Izmir, Ilhami Ortekin, the mayor for the region, told private NTV television.

He said the minibus was dragged about 875 yards along the tracks, and that 15 people were killed and four injured and in critical condition.