More than 200 people were injured when two light rail trains – travelling in opposite directions but on the same track – collided in an underground tunnel near the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, in an incident the Transport Minister blamed on human error.
The accident took place at about 8:33pm (12:33 GMT) on Monday when one of the trains, which was empty after being repaired, collided head-on with another train carrying 213 passengers travelling in the opposite direction on the same track.
Pictures and videos circulating on social media showed injured and bloodied passengers – some of them sitting or lying on the floor – and shattered windows. An adjoining carriage seemed to be in darkness.
At least 47 people were severely hurt and 166 others sustained minor injuries, district police chief Mohamad Zainal Abdullah told reporters at the scene. Rescue teams had to carry people out through the narrow tunnel in a process that took about 50 minutes.
On Tuesday, rail operator Prasarana said 64 people were still being treated in hospital with 15 in a serious condition and six in intensive care.
The crash took place in a section of a tunnel about 100 metres (330 feet) away from the KLCC station.
The line uses automated trains without drivers although on this occasion the empty train was being operated manually.
“We are still investigating the incident … but we suspect that perhaps there was a miscommunication from the trains’ operations control centre,” Abdullah said.
Afiq Luqman Mohd Baharudin, who was on the train, said it had stopped for 15 minutes shortly before the crash.
“We had only been moving for 10 seconds when the accident happened,” the 27 year old told Bernama, the state news agency. “The impact was really strong.”
People who were standing were knocked off their feet and others flung from their seats, he said.
Afiq suffered injuries to his head, leg and chest and was among those taken to hospital for treatment.
Transport minister Wee Ka Siong, said on Tuesday that preliminary investigations suggested the driver of the test train had taken the wrong route and that the passenger train, an autonomous unit, had been cleared to depart the KLCC station on the same track “after receiving information” that the test train had reversed direction, according to the Malay Mail.
Wee earlier said that of the one trains was travelling at 40 kilometres an hour (25 miles per hour) and the other at 60 kilometres per hour (37 miles per hour).
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Twitter that he took the accident “very seriously” and had ordered the transport ministry and Prasarana to carry out a thorough investigation into what had happened.
Situasi di Jabatan Kecemasan dan Trauma HKL susulan kejadian 2 LRT bertembung, semalam.
Ada antara petugas kesihatan inj telah tamat waktu bertugas tetapi kembali ke hospital untuk membantu.
Ada juga petugas dari hospital lain yang datang membantu.
FB Alzamani Idrose pic.twitter.com/Jzx8djXitg
— KKMalaysia🇲🇾 (@KKMPutrajaya) May 25, 2021
(Translation: Situation in the emergency and trauma unit of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital after the two LRT trains collided yesterday. Some of the medics had ended their shift but came back to the hospital to help. Some also came from other hospitals to provide assistance.)
In a statement on social media, Prasarana, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Finance, said it would give its full cooperation to the police and pay 1,000 Malaysian ringgit ($241) in compensation to each of the passengers who were on the train at the time of the collision.
The company said it would also pay the medical costs of those admitted to hospital and provide financial support to those unable to work.
The collision is the first major accident in the metro system’s 23 years of operation.