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Cameroon Train Accident Bollore executive says speed a factor in Cameroon derailment

Camrail usually adds wagons to its regular trains during periods of peak demand, like during school holidays, Melet said

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A derailed Camrail train is seen in Eseka play A derailed Camrail train is seen in Eseka, Cameroon, October 22, 2016. (REUTERS/Anne Mireille Nzouankeu)

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A train that derailed in Cameroon killing at least 79 people on Friday had recently had its number of carriages doubled and was travelling at twice the normal speed when it crashed, the chairman of the train operator's parent company told Reuters.

Eric Melet, chairman of Bollore Africa Railways, a unit of French conglomerate Bollore Group which owns train operator Camrail, said the train was running at about 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour) as it neared the station at Eseka.

"What we can say is that the train, while approaching the station where it derailed, was going at an abnormally high speed," Melet said in an interview.

He said at least 428 people had also been injured in the crash around 120 km (75 miles) west of the capital Yaounde, from where the train had departed with more than 1,300 passengers for the port of Douala. The official death toll is expected to rise.

Melet confirmed that Camrail had recently doubled the size of the train to 16 carriages, with the permission of authorities, to accommodate extra passengers following the collapse of portion of a main highway on the same route.

Camrail usually adds wagons to its regular trains during periods of peak demand, like during school holidays, Melet said. He said the train had been full, but not overloaded.

"Yes, the train was packed due to demand, but the train was within its authorized capacity and in every wagon, there is a regulation for seating and standing space."

The company will carry out an internal investigation on top of the official judicial investigation, he said, adding: "Hopefully, everyday, we'll be able to inform the public on the investigation in coordination with Cameroon authorities."

Another train operated by Camrail derailed in 2009 near Yaounde, killing five people and injuring more than 200.

Bollore Group's local logistics and transportation unit also operates Cameroon's two main ports of Douala and Kribi.

Melet said Bollore "has always invested massively" in Camrail, which will receive five new machines "in the coming days" from South Africa.

The deadly derailment at Eseka, for which a national day of mourning was observed on Monday, has exposed widespread frustration with President Paul Biya, one of Africa's longest-ruling leaders.

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