MOSCOW – Russian investigators said Wednesday they had detained two subway workers over a devastating crash in the Moscow subway that killed 22 people.
City authorities declared Wednesday a day of mourning after the worst accident in the metro’s eight-decade history.
Moscovites swapped stories of how the authorities had ignored their complaints about the overcrowded system.
“Nightmare in the metro,” declared mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. Business daily Vedomosti ran with “Deepest tragedy,” referring to the fact that the accident happened 84 meters (nearly 300 feet) below ground.
Disaster struck on Tuesday during the morning rush hour when a train braked sharply and three cars derailed.
The health ministry said 22 people have now died and that of 150 people hospitalized, several dozen were in a serious condition.
Teams worked around the clock to clear away the debris.
Investigators said they had arrested two metro workers for alleged safety breaches.
A special investigative committee, which reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, said it was holding maintenance foreman Valery Bashkatov and his assistant Yury Gordov.
“The detained men have already been questioned,” the committee said, adding that they would soon be formally charged with safety breaches.
The train derailed in western Moscow between the recently built Park Pobedy Station — the deepest in the ornate marble-clad system — and Slavyansky Boulevard.
Putin swiftly ordered a criminal probe.
The committee said work had been under way at the spot since May to install a set of points — a section of track allowing trains to change lines.
The suspects had overseen the work, the committee said, adding that it believed “the work has not been conducted in a proper manner.”
“A set of points was fixed in place with a piece of regular 3-millimeter wire, which snapped.”
The committee indicated that higher-ranking officials could also be held responsible, saying it intended to probe “absolutely everyone involved in this tragedy.”
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who made transport safety a key plank of his re-election campaign last September, visited survivors in the hospital.
Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov insisted there were no problems prior to the crash, pointing to stringent safety requirements on the system, one of the busiest in the world with a ridership of nearly 9 million per day.
But reports that the authorities repeatedly dismissed complaints about the Park Pobedy-Slavyansky Boulevard stretch have gone viral on social networks.
Sergei Molostvov, a 27-year-old Muscovite, sent a letter in June to the metro’s administration, complaining of what he said were disturbing vibrations between the two stations.
After the crash, he posted on Facebook what he said was a reply in which the subway insisted everything was fine with the tracks.
Molostvov told AFP the reply came just days before Tuesday’s disaster. “The metro is an affluent organization. Why can’t they improve their services?” he asked.
“The busiest of the capital’s transportation systems should undergo a comprehensive and open audit,” Vedomosti said in an editorial.
Vyacheslav Babochkin, a former worker with Metrovagonmash, a manufacturer of metro rolling stock, said that instead of laying the blame on workers, investigators should target senior officials.
“You have to look there for reasons for the tragedy,” he told AFP, criticizing lax oversight of safety rules.
Babochkin, a former member of the factory’s trade union, claimed he had been fired in January after he tried to draw the attention of his superiors to concerns that faulty parts had been used to make train cars.
The metro first opened in 1935.