TEHRAN, Iran — A passenger train partially derailed Wednesday morning in eastern Iran, killing at least 17 people and injuring 50 others, some seriously, authorities said.
The report said the death toll could rise, although early details of the disaster involving a train carrying some 350 passengers remain unclear.
Four of the train’s seven carriages derailed in the early morning darkness near the desert town of Tabas, Iranian state television reported. Tabas lies about 340 miles southeast of the capital, Tehran.
Rescue teams with ambulances and helicopters have arrived in the remote area where communications are poor. More than a dozen people suffered serious injuries, some of whom were transferred to local hospitals, officials said.
Iranian media quoted Tabas Governor Ali Akbar Rahimi as saying the accident killed at least 17 people and the death toll could rise as rescuers search the carriages.
Aerial footage of the desert site of the disaster showed train carriages sideways, with rescuers running to the scene as they tried to treat the injured.
State television later broadcast footage from a hospital where the injured were being treated. One of the injured told the broadcaster he felt the train suddenly brake and then slow down before the derailment.
“Passengers were bouncing around the car like balls in the air,” said the injured passenger, whom state television did not identify.
The derailment happened about 30 miles outside Tabas on the rail that connects the city to the central city of Yazd.
The report says the accident is under investigation. Initial reports suggested the train had collided with an excavator near the track, although it was not immediately clear why an excavator would have been near the tracks at night. A manager suggests it could have been part of a repair project.
Iran’s worst train disaster occurred in 2004, when a runaway train loaded with gasoline, fertilizer, sulfur and cotton crashed near the historic town of Neyshabur, killing some 320 people, wounding 460 others and damaging five villages. Another train crash in 2016 killed dozens and injured dozens.
Iran has some 8,700 miles of rail lines across a country about two and a half times the size of Texas. Its rail system transports both people and goods across the country, especially in rural areas.
Iran also has some 17,000 annual fatalities on its highways, one of the worst road safety records in the world. The high toll is blamed on disregard for traffic laws, unsafe vehicles and inadequate emergency services.
Iran, already under pressure under US sanctions over its collapsed nuclear deal, is mourning the deaths of at least 41 people killed in a building collapse in the country’s southwest.