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SPT: Cause Of Luxury Train Crash Disputed

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  • Norbert Strade
    St. Petersburg Times Issue #1532 (94), Friday, December 4, 2009 Cause Of Luxury Train Crash Disputed By Galina Stolyarova Staff Writer Fierce debate continues
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2009
      St. Petersburg Times
      Issue #1532 (94), Friday, December 4, 2009

      Cause Of Luxury Train Crash Disputed

      By Galina Stolyarova

      Staff Writer

      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
      absolutely reliable.”

      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.

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