Two trains collided on Indonesia’s main island of Java on Friday, causing carriages to buckle and overturn and killing at least four people, officials said.
Passenger Heri Aliyudin said the lights were knocked out in his cabin in the third carriage of the Turangga train. He recalled suitcases and bags fell onto several passengers. Those who were still asleep were thrown from their seats.
“I was so shocked, I couldn’t move for a moment, it was total confusion,” Aliyudin told Kompas TV in an interview, “Then I grabbed my suitcase and shoved my way outside.”
West Java Police spokesperson Ibrahim Tompo said at least four train crew members were killed — the driver and his assistant on the commuter train and a steward and a security guard on the express train.
Television video showed several carriages overturned or badly mangled. One carriage plunged into a nearby rice field. People screamed as panicked passengers tried to get out of the train. Some walked through the fields carrying suitcases and other items as ambulances evacuated the injured.
Transportation ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati apologized for the accident and for the disruption of railway services across Java island.
She said the cause of the accident was being investigated and that rescuers had evacuated all passengers and were working to remove the trains to restore service.
“This accident will be subject to further evaluation so that a similar incident will not happen again in the future,” Irawati said.
Major local media reports said a preliminary investigation found that the commuter train was given the go-ahead to proceed when the express train was almost at Cicalengka station. Usually, the commuter train stops at Haurpugur Station to give way to the express train before proceeding.
PT Kereta Api Indonesia’s president director Didiek Hartantyo would not be drawn to comment on whether poor communication was to blame for the accident.
“Don’t assume. We don’t want to speculate before the investigation is completed,” Hartyanto said, “Let’s give time for the National Transportation Safety Commission to carry out a thorough investigation.”
Train accidents are common on Indonesia’s aging railroad network, especially at crossings.
In October 2013, a passenger train slammed into a minibus that was carrying families of hajj pilgrims at an unguarded crossing in West Java’s Indramayu district, killing 13 people. A train from the capital, Jakarta, in 2010 plowed into the rear of a train that was sitting at a station in Central Java province, killing 36 people.
The government has spent billions of dollars on improving infrastructure, including roads, railways, airports and power plants, in the world’s largest archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.
A $7.3 billion high-speed railway, Southeast Asia’s first, has been operating commercially since October. The 142-kilometer (88-mile) railway, a key project under China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, has drastically reduced travel time between Jakarta and Bandung from three hours to about 40 minutes.
By Nadeem Faisal Baiga