In 2002 the government of Tanzania was looking for a private buyer to take over the run-down state railway system. The 22-car passenger train which left Dar es Salaam for the northwestern province of Dodoma was, like many trains at that time, dilapidated and overcrowded (there were probably more than 1,200 passengers aboard) and was maintained and manned by staff who, uncertain about the future of their jobs, may have been working less efficiently than usual.
After passing through the town of Msagali in the early hours of June 24, the train was slowly climbing the hill at Igandu when the driver realized there was something wrong with the brakes. Near the summit, he stopped the train and got down to re-adjust the braking system; then he got back up into the cab. As the train started moving again, the brakes failed completely and it began to roll backwards at ever increasing speed. In desperation, the driver abandoned the controls and raced along the train, shouting a warning that it was out of control. Many jumped out, terrified, onto the tracks.
At the bottom of the hill, a goods train was waiting to make the ascent. The runaway passenger train slammed into it at high speed and 21 of its carriages crashed off the tracks. In the ensuing nightmare of screaming, panic and injury, survivors and local people worked with ambulance teams but the vital heavy-lifting and cutting equipment did not arrive until the next day.
Victims’ families received between $100 and $500 from the company. A government inquiry, ruling out sabotage by disaffected railway union members, blamed the ‘slow reactions’ of the driver.
When was the Igandu Train Disaster: June 24 2002
Where was the Igandu Train Disaster: Igandu, near Dodoma, Tanzania
What was the Igandu Train Disaster death toll: The official body count was 281 but it was probably far more; hundreds were injured, many critically.
You should know: Tanzania Railways Corporation was eventually bought by an Indian consortium.