Suspects identified in Russian train explosion

The head of Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee says it has identified suspects in an explosion, which derailed a passenger train between Moscow and St. Petersburg on Monday evening. 60 people were injured and 800 metres of track was damaged in the

Russia's security services say they believe at least two people were involved in the bombing. Police have released photo-fit images of two male suspects.

Officials believe an improvised bomb was left on the rail track.

“We do have suspects. Various groups from security agencies are working very actively to probe the cause of this accident. Taking into consideration that President Putin is monitoring the case, we have all grounds to believe the investigation will find those responsible,” Vladimir Katrenko, the Head of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.

The security services say they believe at least two people were involved in the bombing.

Six people are still in a serious condition. There are reports of a 1.5 metre crater close to where the train left the tracks.

Works were finished on the first railway track and we decided in the near future we can open the line for passenger trains. Immediately after that they should start to restore the second track. I suppose we need at least 24 hours to complete the entire work on the site.

Vladimir Yakunin, President of the Russian Railways

Regional authorities are stepping up safety measures at railways across the country. The head of the Russian Railways has cut a business trip to Siberia short and is due to arrive at the derailment site.

“As of today we have 760 operative groups of transport police, who provide security on passenger and commuter trains. We also have special district officers who carry out controls on the passengers, checking their profiles. There are also specialists who maintain surveillance of the trains while they are stored at the depot. The whole system is operational now,” Aleksandr Chekalin, the First Deputy of the Internal Affairs Minister.

Russia's Transport Minister, Igor Levitin, has already been at the site of the explosion and said that Russian Railways should pay compensation to the victims of the incident.

“I want to say that transport around the world is unfortunately vulnerable to external actions. According to our information by 10 a.m., 16 people were being treated in hospitals in St. Petersburg. I have just reported the situation to the President. His main message was to give help to those injured in this catastrophe and to assist all passengers now traveling by indirect routes, that's about 50 trains now. The Russian Railways company has organised a crisis center for damage control, all passengers in those trains are being given food and water. The estimated time of clearing one line to restore traffic is 6 p.m. today. There are two possible causes of such an incident – infrastructure and external actions,” Igor Levitin, commented.

Map of the acciden
Map of the acciden

 Russia's President Vladimir Putin has voiced his support for those affected by the train derailment. He spoke from the Republic of Tyva in Siberia where he's accompanying Monaco's Prince Albert on a tour of the region.

“Yes, I am familiar with the situation. Do everything necessary along with the health minister, emergencies minister and law enforcement agencies to help the people. Do everything to restore train traffic. Report to me later on what has been done,” the President said.

At least 30 passengers were hospitalised after the blast, which occurred at 21.38 local time, with many taken to St Petersburg for assistance.

“All the victims were taken to hospital in Malye Vyshery at first and from there sent to hospital in St. Petersburg. At the moment 19 people are being treated there. One of the patients remains in Malye Vyshery. Most of them are being treated for injuries. In one case we suspect a thighbone fracture. Nobody is in a grave condition,” Oleg Atkov, Russian Railways Vice-President on Health and Social Issues, commented.

There were 215 passengers and 20 rail staff on board. All the passengers and personnel have been taken to St. Petersburg by Russia's Ministry Of Emergencies' special plane.

“People behaved very well. I've worked on three rail incidents and in comparison to my previous experience the passengers and the staff were really good, they were calm, they helped each other, they were of course frightened but had control over themselves. Most of the injuries were fractures, bruises and scratches there was one case of a spinal fracture and one hip fracture – those were the most serious patients. The train staff showed themselves very well too, they didn't even ask for help from the doctors until all the passengers had been seen to,” Svetlana Ershova, a doctor, says.

About 130 specialists from Russian Railways are working at the site doing their best to clear the consequences of the derailment.

We do have suspects. Various groups from security agencies are working very actively to probe the cause of this accident. Taking into consideration that President Putin is monitoring the case, we have all grounds to believe the investigation will find those responsible.

Vladimir Katrenko,  Head of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee

The president of the Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin also visited the site and he says it'll take emergency workers at least a day to complete the repairs.  

“Works were finished on the first railway track and we decided in the near future we can open the line for passenger trains. Immediately after that they should start to restore the second track. I suppose we need at least 24 hours to complete the entire work on the site,” commented Vladimir Yakunin.

The Prosecutor General's Office has launched an investigation on terrorist charges.

Witnesses say they heard a clap that sounded like an explosion. Experts who have been working on the site say also believe that there might have been an explosion of a home-made bomb.

Trains have been re-routed around the site, adding four to eight hours to normal journey times.

“The Moscow to St. Petersburg lie is one of the busiest routes, especially in the summer. To prevent the cancellation of trains we decided to re-route it bypassing the incident site. That, of course, causes delays of about six to twelve hours. In all, there are 70 trains in service now on the new routes. Each train has more than 500 passengers. We are doing everything possible to provide them all with hot food,” Gennady Verkhovikh, Russian Railways spokesperson, said.

Joseph Linder, President of International Anti-terrorism Training Association, says it would be impossible to guarantee a 100% security along the whole length of Russia's railroads.

“There is no system that could protect all railroads, only important components are protected, such as bridges of strategic importance or big junctions. Otherwise we would have to keep guards on every kilometre, or create a complex system for protecting railroads. This system would make railroads a closed area surrounded by a fence and barbed wire. It would be dozens of times more expensive than building the railroad itself, but it wouldn't guarantee 100 % security. Yet there shouldn't be any panic. Most cases are stopped by security measures,” he believes.

The train was known as the “Neva Express”. It provides a regular service between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and with a journey time of less than 5 hours it is thought to be particularly popular among the business community.

The head of Russia's Federal Security Service, Nikolay Patrushev, has linked the bombing to the Chechnen insurgency in the south of the country where militants have carried out a long campaign of rebellion against Moscow rule.

“We have been able to significantly reduce the number of terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the threat of extremism and terrorism has not been removed once and for all,” he said.

Militants linked to Chechnya have used bombs to target Russian trains in the past.

In December 2003, an explosion tore through a morning commuter train outside Yessentuki, a town in the southern Stavropol Region, killing nearly 50 people.

Two years later a passenger train heading from Chechnya to Moscow derailed about 150 km from the Russian capital. 42 people were injured, five of them seriously.

Another serious rail accident, although not connected to terrorism, happened in June this year. 12 people were hurt when a passenger train collided with a freight train near Voronezh, a large city in Southwest Russia.

It is hoped rail services between Moscow and St Petersburg will be back to normal by Wednesday.

A number of hotlines have been set up for anyone who's concerned about relatives who they think may have been on the train.

In Moscow the number is 545-44-19 or 268-08-83, while those in St. Petersburg can call 436-88-13 or 768-44-28