Export report on Ankara train crash blames nine senior officials of state railways

An expert witness report commissioned by prosecutors investigating a train crash in December in Ankara has said that senior officials rushed to open the faulty line for political reasons, Evrensel newspaper reported on Thursday. 

Nine senior officials of the Turkish state railway service were responsible for the crash, which left nine people dead and 47 others injured, according to the experts’ testimony. 

One of the main causes of the crash was the rushed opening of a high-speed train route between Istanbul and Ankara ahead of crucial presidential elections in July 2014, the report said. 

Top European Union officials including Johannes Hann, in charge of the department helping to finance the railway project, had warned there were safety risks in beginning commercial train service early, Duvar news site reported in February. 

The three-member expert team said in their report that the incident should not be called “a high speed train crash”, as in fact it had been a crash caused by a high speed train which had been travelling at conventional speed.

The high speed trains were operating on the route without an automated signalling system. The experts said that a trafficking system had been used as a substitute for an automated signalling system, and counted this as the secondary cause of the crash. 

“This system is not a system that was used before. Its risks are unknown and it has no place in the literature,” the report said, adding that such a system had never been cited in international railway regulations. 

According to the report, Turkish railway officials asked staff to shift the manoeuvring of the trains from the west of the route instead of the east a month before the accident. This decreased the number of switchmen used in manoeuvring and increased the risk of a crash, it said. 

The former head of Turkish state railways, İsa Apaydın, is among nine senior officials who should be held accountable of the incident, the report said. Apaydın created a public outcry following the train crash for locking his Twitter account to avoid negative comments. 

A dispatcher, switchman, and inspector were arrested after the train crash and charged with reckless homicide.

Meanwhile, a panel of judges on Wednesday withdrew from a case over another train accident in the north western town of Çorlu last year. Some 25 people were killed and more than 70 injured when a passenger train derailed after heavy rain caused ground underneath the tracks to collapse. 

Some relatives of the victims had nervous breakdowns after they learned the judges’ decision to withdraw from the case during the first hearing.

“Did we wait one year for that,” cried Mısra Öz Sel, the mother of a nine-year old who died in the accident. Sel has been using social media to raise awareness about the train accident and to reach out to Turkish officials since the accident.