A Moscow subway train that derailed during morning rush hour killed at least 21 people and injured more than 140 in the deadliest incident in the Russian capital’s underground system since twin suicide bombings in 2010.
Nineteen people died in the subway, while a man and woman succumbed to injuries in hospital, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said in televised remarks.
Authorities were quick to rule out terrorism as the cause of the crash and gave conflicting accounts as to why one of the lead wagons derailed, causing trailing carriages to jackknife. The Emergencies Ministry said the train came to a sharp stop after a voltage drop in the subway’s electrical system. Other officials cited a wheel malfunction.
State television showed rescue workers moving several hundred people out of a tunnel between the Slavyansky Bulvar and Park Pobedy stations in western Moscow. The train, on the dark blue line that bisects the city, was heading away from downtown when the accident occurred.
Moscow’s subway network, opened by Josef Stalin in 1935, is the world’s busiest outside of Asia, carrying as many as 9 million people a day through 194 stations, according to the website of its operator, Moscow Metropolitan. The city government said last year it plans to spend $55 billion to upgrade and expand Moscow’s road, rail and subway networks to boost use of public transport by 45 percent.
“I thought it was the end,” one passenger said in comments shown on Rossiya 24 television, describing how the lights suddenly went out and smoke filled the carriages. Emergency workers removed some of the injured by helicopter to circumvent traffic jams.
Some of the relatives and friends of the injured who rushed to local hospitals said they were prevented by officials from learning the status of people who were hurt.
“I was told they won’t give him a phone and they won’t let him speak to me,” Natalya Sedykh, 23, said in televised remarks about her boyfriend Valery.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin visited the scene as rescue workers moved people to safety. Sobyanin, a former chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin, made improving transportation and rooting out corruption the focus of his administration after taking over in 2010 from Yury Luzhkov, who had governed the city of 11.5 million for 18 years.
Russia’s ranks behind Ghana, Montenegro and Albania at 93rd out of 148 nations for the quality of its infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitiveness Report.
A fire broke out in a subway tunnel near the Kremlin last year, prompting the evacuation of about 4,500 people and snarling downtown traffic. In 1982 eight people died when an escalator in one of Moscow’s subway stations collapsed.
Security was stepped up across the subway network after 40 people were killed at two downtown stations in March 2010 by two female suicide bombers.