Six in critical condition in aftermath of Malaysia's rail crash as human error identified as cause

KUALA LUMPUR – Six individuals are in critical condition following the country’s first Light Rail Transit (LRT) crash which occurred on Monday evening in Kuala Lumpur, as preliminary reports indicated that a human error caused the collision between two trains that sent dozens to hospital.

“It was due to the mistake by the person driving the train in the wrong direction,” Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said in a virtual news conference on Tuesday (May 25).

He said early reports from the Land Public Transport Agency indicated that the hostler, or operator of the train, that was carrying 213 passengers had manually driven the train in the wrong direction, after the train timed out at a station stop and could no longer be automatically operated. This, he said, caused it to collide with an unmanned, automated empty train that was heading to a service depot.

Datuk Seri Wee said both the trains were initially heading in the same direction. But Train 40, which was carrying passengers and was ahead, stalled at a station, and this caused the hostler to manually operate the train.

However, instead of continuing the journey southbound, the hostler sent the train northbound, causing it to collide with the southbound empty train.

Dr Wee said 64 individuals are receiving treatment at a Kuala Lumpur hospital, with six of them currently in critical condition.

“Another 15 are partially critical,” Dr Wee said, without giving details.

A total of 47 others were seriously injured in the crash, while another 166 were lightly injured.

An investigation committee headed by top civil servants from the Transport Ministry and experts from the rail industry will be formed in the aftermath of the crash, the minister said.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday called for a probe into the accident by the ministry and train operator Prasarana Malaysia, and urged that “stern action be taken”.

Prasarana has said it will bear the medical costs of all the victims of the crash, and had also said every person on the train will receive RM1,000 (S$320) as compensation.

“Prasarana will also bear the living costs for anyone who loses their income as a result of this accident,” Dr Wee said on Tuesday.

The accident is the first crash involving the LRT in its 23-year service since the Kelana Jaya rail line was opened in 1998.

The Kelana Jaya LRT line is Malaysia’s busiest rail line and is one of several train systems that serve capital city Kuala Lumpur and the neigbouring Selangor districts.

The crash occurred in an underground tunnel near the Kampung Baru station, a short distance away from the neighbouring station at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre that anchors the Petronas Twin Towers.

An injured passenger at KLCC station in Kuala Lumpur after the accident involving LRT trains on May 24. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The crash happened just hours before Malaysia tightened its movement control protocols to tackle the worsening coronavirus situation.

Rail services, including the LRT, from Tuesday reduced passenger capacity by half and also lowered train frequency to discourage people from moving around. But this has caused passenger congestion at the stations of most train systems.

Malaysia is entering the third week of a month-long third lockdown following the worst wave of Covid-19 which has seen record infections, record deaths and record admissions in critical wards, which are in short supply.

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