St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1532 (94), Friday, December 4, 2009
Cause Of Luxury Train Crash Disputed
By Galina Stolyarova
Fierce debate continues over the possible cause of the Nov. 27 deadly
crash on the Nevsky Express en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg that
claimed 26 lives.
According to a new scenario voiced by the Emergency Situations Ministry
on Wednesday, a group of terrorists had plotted to hit two trains at the
same time. Leonid Belyayev, head of the ministry’s St. Petersburg
branch, said another train traveling in the opposite direction on the
St. Petersburg-Moscow route missed the explosion by sheer chance, as it
happened to be one minute behind schedule.
“One minute behind schedule meant a three-kilometer distance from the
scene of the explosion,” Belyayev said, adding there is no reason to
question terrorism as being the cause of the crash.
However, Sergei Sokolov, a leading specialist with the Analysis and
Security Federal Information Center, said he has serious doubts about
the terrorism scenario.
“From the terrorists’ point of view, it would be completely illogical to
organize a second explosion,” Sokolov said, referring to what was
described as a ‘minor explosion’ at the rescue operations scene on
Saturday, Nov. 28.
Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia’s
Chief Prosecutor’s Office was injured by the second blast, which led to
suspicions that the explosion was targeted at him or other top-ranking
officials present at the scene.
“As someone who often traveled to Chechnya during the military campaigns
there, I have seen many craters of blasts caused by explosive devices,
so I have a fair idea of how a train explosion can be set up and what
sort of crater it would make,” Sokolov said, defending his views on the
crash. “The photographs [of the scene] and the other evidence relating
to the Nevsky Express crash haven’t convinced me that the terrorism
scenario is the right one.”
Chechen rebels claimed responsibility for the killing, rebel web site
Kavkaz Center said Wednesday. The attack was part of a broader strategy
announced earlier this year by rebel leader Doku Umarov, Kavkaz Center
said in a statement attributed to the rebels’ headquarters. Umarov had
called to move terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage from the North
Caucasus to the rest of Russia.
The rebels pledged to continue attacks in Russia, but promised to limit
civilian casualties. They have not produced any proof of their involvement.
Earlier this week, Yevgeny Kulikov, head of the Russian Independent
Labor Union of Locomotive Brigades of Railworkers, and a former train
driver, suggested the train disaster was more likely to have been caused
by a fault on the line or a train malfunction, rather than by an act of
terrorism. Kulikov also maintained that the railway authorities tend to
economize on safety and repair issues.
Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, spoke out against media
reports questioning the safety of the railways and expressing doubts as
to whether or not the train crash was orchestrated by terrorists. “All
these so-called alternative versions sound plain stupid,” Yakunin told
reporters in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
Valery Tanayev, deputy head of the Oktyabrskaya Railway and its chief
safety inspector, told reporters on Thursday that the stretch of railway
between Moscow and St. Petersburg was in perfect condition, and rejected
speculations that the Nov. 27 crash could have been caused by a broken rail.
“Until this tragic incident, everything went smoothly,” Tanayev said.
“All safety aspects, including the quality of the rails as well as the
operation of traffic lights and the traffic control network were
According to Tanayev, security controls maintained on the
Moscow-St.Petersburg route are generally tighter that on other railway
lines in Russia. “Our equipment allows controllers not only to monitor
anything out of the ordinary in any part of the system, but also to
identify potentially hazardous situations which could lead to an
accident,” he said. “It is so sensitive that we know which lamp to
replace before it burns out.”
Several media reports have linked the train catastrophe to the Chechen
guerrilla leader Doku Umarov, while others have speculated that Russian
national Pavel Kosolapov, who is wanted by the police for allegedly
carrying out a string of terrorist attacks, may be behind the crash.
According to the official investigation, 23 passengers on the Nevsky
Express were killed instantly when the train went off the rails. Two
more people died in ambulances on the way to hospital, and a woman died
in a Moscow hospital days after the crash. One body remains unidentified
due to the extent of the injuries sustained, and laboratory tests have
to be held to complete identification. Nearly 100 passengers were
injured in the crash. Seventy-seven victims of the train disaster who
sustained various injuries continue to receive treatment in hospitals in
Moscow and St. Petersburg.