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Lucky escape as cargo train crashes into stalls

Dozens of Kibera slum dwellers escaped death by a whisker early on Sunday after a cargo train derailed and sent its wagons and rear engine ploughing into several stalls.

The wagons flattened structures, most of them stalls lying on a 50-metre stretch, injuring at least six people, including a small girl during the 8.30am accident. They were all rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital nursing broken limbs.

It was a disaster waiting to happen as stubborn residents have erected their stalls dangerously close to the rail track oblivious of the dangers they are exposing themselves to.

The requirement is that no construction takes place at least 30 metres from the tracks but this has always been ignored.

Eviction attempts

The residents have repeatedly resisted attempts by the Kenya Railways to move them away from the area saying they have nowhere else to go to.

“One of my colleagues was trying to save the girl but unfortunately they were both caught by the wagon as it fell,” said Francis Otina, a stall owner who escaped the accident narrowly.

There was a possibility that some unfortunate passers-by could have been trapped underneath the wagons, said a resident Douglas Machuka.

“At the beginning we could hear someone crying for help underneath. We tried to dig and rescue some people but now it’s all quiet and we don’t know if any more people are left,” said Shadrack Onyango as he and thousands of residents waited for Kenya Railways personnel to come and remove the wagons.

“We cannot be sure if there are any dead until the wagons are lifted,” said Nicholas Thuo, a Kenya Railways emergency operations officer.

Fifty metres of stalls were flattened by the wagons but most had not opened being a Sunday morning.

Among those that had not opened included a furniture store, several eateries, vegetable stalls as well as multiple second-hand clothes stalls including one run by Mr Otina.

Most of the residents accused Kenya Railways of delaying the planned construction of houses to resettle them so that they move away from the area.

Transport Cabinet Secretary engineer Michael Kamau, who led government officials on a tour of the scene of the accident, said they were working to have the people relocated from the railway line.

“Trains have to move in speeds of as low as 10kph to avoid ploughing into houses if they derail,” he cautioned.

Wet area

He added that the derailment was caused by line instability as the area is wet. However some locals accused Kenya Railways of doing a shoddy job of repairing a section of the track only last Friday.

“They came and dug up the area to repair the track but the ballast was not replaced between the sleepers. This area always has water seeping and without proper replacement of the ballast the track is not firm.

“It only takes a heavy cargo train to cause this kind of accident,” said Chris Okonda, whose vegetable stall was flattened.

The cargo train headed to Uganda was loaded with wheat but derailed as it negotiated a sharp bend. Save for the two wagons and rear engine, the rest of the train remained on the tracks.