TEHERAN • Iran detained three railway officials yesterday after a collision between two trains that left at least 44 people dead, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"During the investigation, three people in charge of the north-east train control centre based in the city of Shahroud... were arrested," provincial Prosecutor-General Heydar Asiabi told reporters.
Two trains collided and one caught fire in the northern province of Semnan on Friday, killing 44 people and injuring dozens more, in one of the country's worst ever rail disasters.
The crash occurred near Shahroud, on the main line between Teheran and Iran's second city Mashhad. One of the trains had stopped between the towns of Semnan and Damghan after an apparent mechanical failure, forcing officials to halt others on the line.
But when a new shift started at the control centre in Shahroud, the second train was allowed to resume its journey, Mr Hossein Ashouri, an Iranian Railways Company official, told state television.
The front four coaches of the second train - running from Semnan to Mashhad - derailed and overturned.
"One minute, I was sleeping, and the next, I was being carried out of a coach on fire," one hospitalised passenger told state television.
Television broadcast images of a huge column of black smoke and flames shooting into the sky from coaches with their windows shattered, as firefighters battled the blaze and rescue workers searched for victims.
Iran's rail network aged badly under economic sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear programme, making it difficult to modernise rolling stock, and safety standards suffered.
The sanctions were lifted in January after Iran reached a deal with world powers to limit its nuclear activity.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences yesterday for the "painful incident", which came just a day after more than 60 Iranian pilgrims were killed in a suicide attack in Iraq.
President Hassan Rouhani called for "all technical, administrative and preventive measures to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such an accident".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS