A train accident in Saudi Arabia that left more than 35 passengers injured on Wednesday has been spotlighted by the Saudi press this week after the monarch issued a decree to sack the president of the Saudi Railway Organization.
Abdul Aziz al-Hoqail, was removed from his position, according to the Saudi Press Agency, amid fears that the derailment accident could be repeated.
On Wednesday, the train had reportedly been traveling along the country’s only passenger rail link, but was derailed near al-Khurais junction, 70 km east of Riyadh.
More than 35 passengers were injured of the 332 on board. The train link is some 400 km long and connects Dammam to the capital, Riyadh.
Since Wednesday's incident, train passengers said they fear riding on poorly-maintained trains, and have requested that the tracks be replaced, local press reported.
Mass train ticket cancellations were reported by both citizens and expatriates living in the kingdom, who said they found an alternate way to travel between Riyadh and Dammam, according to the Saudi Gazette.
Residents are now choosing to use unofficial taxis, locally known as Kadada, which they believe to be the safest way to travel between the country’s Eastern and Central regions. The Saudi Public Transport Company buses travelling from Dammam to Riyadh were reportedly running at full capacity. Similar lines were seen at the city’s main taxi stand. It was also reported that Kadada drivers have reaped the benefits of the train accident.
Ali al-Shehri, in an interview with a Saudi daily, said that officials should review the overall performance of the railway. “The trains are super old. The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) has the ability to improve their performance and update services and trains. I canceled my reservation because it is becoming too risky to travel on this train. All of the SRO’s trains lack safety measures and officials at the organization are responsible for what happened.”
Meanwhile, 45-year-old expat Nawal Mustapha, who was with her sister in the train when the accident occurred, described a complete chaos when the train’s engine and three carriages derailed and turned over.
“The accident happened quickly as the carriage overturned. Rescue workers were trying to evacuate the passengers and transport them into another emergency train and then to the hospital. We were asleep and woke up to a loud noise and the carriage overturning. There was chaos everywhere, I could only think about my daughter,” she told the Saudi Gazette.
The accident was reportedly caused by broken control cables between Riyadh and Dammam, according to a source who spoke to the newspaper. However, railway authorities ordered a further investigation shortly after the accident occurred.
“Some unidentified people stole the optical fiber cables that link the special control system of the railway tracks between Dammam and Riyadh, causing the damage to the system that resulted in the failure of the switching devices to respond to commands,” Al-Eqtisadiyah daily quoted a source, who did not want his name published, as saying.
The latest railway accident was one of several incidents in the past. Ten people were killed and dozens injured in eight train accidents in the Kingdom since May 2006. In an accident in October 2010, five workers were killed. In January 2007, three passengers were killed in another accident.