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World

Poland defends rail safety after deadly crash

Grzegorz Misiak/edytor.net via Reuters

Rescue crews searched the wreckage of the trains Sunday at the site of the collision near Szczehociny, Poland.

SZCZEKOCINY, Poland - Poland’s government insisted Sunday that rail travel is safe in the country despite a train collision that killed 16 people, assurances that come months before masses of sports fans will enter the country for a major soccer tournament - many of whom will crisscross the nation by train.

Saturday night’s crash, Poland’s mostly deadly rail tragedy in more than two decades, raised new questions about the safety of a state-run rail network, which has undergone modernization in recent years. Poland still has a rail system marked by the legacy of the communist decades but has been working to upgrade trains and tracks.

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The trains collided head-on in a shower of sparks and mangled metal, killing 16 people and injuring dozens more near the southern town of Szczekociny, just north of Krakow. Both trains inexplicably ended up running on the same track. Polish leaders said it was the worst rail tragedy since 16 people were killed in a 1990 collision near Warsaw.

Some routes today are notorious for being slower than they were even before World War II - and the economically dynamic young member of the European Union has been pushing to change this even as it builds skyscrapers, highways, and stadiums. Several of the construction projects have been accelerated by the coming Euro 2012 soccer championship, which start in June.

Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak insisted that train travel is safe and that the government makes safety a priority as it improves the system. The collision occurred on a stretch of track that was recently modernized, but officials said it was too early to speak about a cause.

President Bronislaw Komorowski called for two days of national mourning Monday and Tuesday.

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