May 23, 2017 / 10:01 PM / 3 months ago

Camrail 'mainly to blame' for Cameroon train crash that killed 79 -inquiry

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Cameroon's Camrail was "mainly to blame" for a train crash that killed some 79 people last October, largely because the train was going at more than twice the speed limit, was overloaded and its brakes were defective, a government report said on Tuesday.

The packed train operated by Camrail, a unit of French industrial group Bollore, came off the tracks in the town of Eseka en route from the capital Yaounde to the central African country's port city of Douala.

A statement from the office of Cameroon President Paul Biya delivered the results of the inquiry, adding the president had taken heed of the report and would "review the concession agreement signed between the State of Cameroon and Camrail."

A Bollore spokesman in Paris and a Camrail spokesman in Yaounde both declined to comment on the report.

"The commission of inquiry established that the rail carrier Camrail was mainly to blame for the derailment," the statement said. "The main reason the train's coaches overturned was speeding (96 km/h) on a rail section with a low speed limit (40 km/h)"

A week after the crash Eric Melet, chairman of Bollore Africa Railways, which owns Camrail, told Reuters the train had its number of carriages doubled and was travelling at twice the normal speed when it crashed.

The final report noted "other abnormalities", including "use of passenger coaches several of which had defective breaking systems," and "overloading of the train."

It also said that the driver had raised some safety concerns with the company's management but that these had not been heeded.

One of the experts on the inquiry delivered some of these conclusions in January, but it had been unclear whether the final report would bear them out.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the government gave an initial death toll of 79 with more than 400 others injured. Though that figure had been expected to rise, no final figure was given.

Victims of a rail crash and families of the dead filed a lawsuit against Camrail and Bollore in November, accusing them of negligence and involuntary manslaughter.

Spokesmen for Camrail and Bollore declined to comment on the lawsuit at the time, saying they were awaiting the results of the investigations.

Additional reporting by Josiane Kouagheu and Mathieu Rosemain; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Sandra Maler

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