Driver Of Deadly Thai Train Crash Fell Asleep

A deadly train crash last week near a beach resort in Thailand was the fault of the driver who fell asleep after taking antihistamines and other cold medicine, the head of a fact-finding panel said Tuesday.

The Bangkok-bound train derailed Oct. 5 near the coastal city of Hua Hin, killing seven people and injuring 88. About a half-dozen of the train's 16 cars derailed in a twisted heap after the train jumped the tracks during an overnight trip from the southern city of Trang.

"The driver admitted that he dozed off because he took medication for fever and allergies," said State Railway of Thailand deputy governor Pakorn Tangjetsakao, who headed a fact-finding panel that interviewed the driver, several train employees and witnesses.

While asleep, the driver jumped a red light and awoke in time to see he was headed straight for a parked freight train, prompting him to abruptly try to shift tracks, which resulted in the derailment, said Pakorn.

The panel also found that the driver, 49-year-old Roengsak Panthep, had been given only one day off since the beginning of September and was suffering from stress, Pakorn said.

The panel has recommended the driver be fired for reckless driving and for violating driving regulations, Pakorn said. The findings will be turned over to an SRT disciplinary committee for final approval. A separate police investigation is under way.

The panel also recommended 15 percent pay cuts for the next 10 months for two other crew members on board _ the mechanic and a train caretaker _ for failing to help monitor signals.

The mechanic testified that he did not hear radio signals for the train to stop because he has a hearing problem, Pakorn said.

Members of the railway union have called for the resignation of the rail authority's governor, saying that mismanagement, budget cuts and old trains are to blame for a number of recent derailments on Thailand's aging rail network.

"They cannot just blame the driver," said Sawit Kaewwan, a union leader. "Train workers have been overworked due to a policy to limit recruitment of more staff. They have failed to solve the problem of massive shortage of workers."

One day before the Hua Hin crash, a freight train carrying cement powder derailed north of Bangkok, the capital. There were no reported casualties in the Oct. 4 accident.

On Oct. 1, a passenger train in western Kanchanabhuri province derailed following heavy rain. Yuthana said the earth underneath the track was heavily soaked with water, which may have caused the accident.

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