An Israel Railways passenger train en route from Be'er Sheva to Tel Aviv went off the tracks yesterday at about 11 A.M. in the area of Kfar Menachem near Kiryat Gat. Magen David Adom rescue crews took four lightly injured passengers and another ten other passengers who were suffering from shock to the hospital.
The train involved in the accident was composed of six passenger cars. After it passed over a railway switch point, two cars went off the tracks. It appears that the cars did not overturn due to the train's low rate of speed at the time.
Israel Railways said yesterday that the train had just undergone thorough inspection at the beginning of this week, and praised the train's locomotive driver, who has been an Israel Railways employee for 17 years. Israel Railways Director General Yitzhak Harel, who arrived at the scene of the accident, said the train's driver reported that he slowed as they approached a train coming from the opposite direction, then heard the sound of an impact and stopped the train altogether.
The initial conclusion yesterday evening by an internal railway investigating committee was that the train hit a foreign object which had been located between the tracks and hit the train's undercarriage. The investigators located the point of impact as well as fragments from the train which were disbursed in all directions, about six kilometers behind where the train stopped. According to current assessments, the object was apparently dragged under the train until it passed over the switch point near Kfar Menachem, which then pushed the train wheels up causing the cars to derail.
"The minute the train cars derailed, the whole train shook badly," said Amir Ozeri, a Be'er Sheva resident who was on the train. "There was terrible panic in the cars. Women screamed and one woman was looking for her child who had suddenly disappeared. Items in the overhead rack fell down on the passengers and real panic spread through the place. People helped each other to get out of the train car."
The actual fo reign object itself has not been located, and railway officials point out that other possible causes of the accident are being considered and that it is too early to point to a definitive reason for the derailment.
Passengers on the train said they heard a loud noise after which the train reportedly became unstable minutes before the derailment. Due to repairs required as a result of the accident, train traffic on the Lod-Be'er Sheva line has been halted until tomorrow morning.
Following the accident, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) convened a special investigative committee, to be chaired by his ministry's senior deputy director general for planning, Yeshayahu Ronen. Ronen will be joined on the committee by Prof. Doron Balasha from the Technion, as well as other representatives from the Transportation Ministry, the police and Israel Railways.
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