'Crazy train' without conductor narrowly skirts disaster in Tunis

The “crazy train” finally came to a stop when the electricity was cut. (Screengrab from video)
The “crazy train” finally came to a stop when the electricity was cut. (Screengrab from video)

After a conductor stepped down from his train for a routine inspection, the train suddenly started moving again. The runaway train, which the Tunisian media have baptised “the crazy train”, nearly led to disaster.

The incident took place on the morning of July 26 in a suburb south of Tunis. It was a normal weekday morning for 27-year-old Wajdi Dhaoui, who hopped on the 7am train in the main station in Tunis to get to his job as a production manager.

Video filmed by our Observer Wajdi Dhaoui after the “crazy train” was finally stopped.

"I saw a child call his mother and beg for her forgiveness, no doubt thinking it was the end”

The ride started out normally, except for a slight delay setting off from the main station. The train arrived in Ezzahra station [a suburb south of Tunis] around 7:25am. We waited a bit because there seemed to be a problem with one of the doors. Suddenly, they all snapped shut and the train started moving very quickly. We were all very surprised but it wasn’t until we passed the next station without stopping there that we realized that there was a serious problem.

At first, the passengers thought that the conductor might have become ill or fainted. They tried to open the door to the front car but it wasn’t possible. Other people started to say that they had seen the conductor get off at Ezzahra station. People started to panic. We became more fearful with each station that we passed. We realized that we were trapped on a crazy train with no way of stopping it. Some people tried to call the emergency services. I saw a child call his mother and beg for her forgiveness, no doubt thinking it was the end…

Shortly after we passed the eighth station, we felt a huge jolt. We thought the train was going to go off of the rails but it stopped a few seconds later. When the doors opened some of us went to check the driver's cabin at the front of the train: there was no one there.

The Tunisian National Railway Society (the SNCFT) realised that there was a problem when the train failed to stop at any of the stations. They cut the power on the track to bring the train to a stop.

Luckily, no one was injured. In a statement, the SNCFT said that the conductor had got off at Ezzahra station to check the doors without taking the necessary precautions to completely stop the train, which then went on to automatically re-start. The SNCFT also said that there would be a full investigation into the matter to determine exactly what transpired.


Tunisian Transportation Minister Radhouane Ayara said that the conductor had made a “serious mistake” but that it was an “isolated incident”.

However, even though this incident was unique, the SNCFT has often been criticised for an increase in the number of rail accidents in recent years, which have both killed and injured passengers. Dhaoui agrees that the SNCFT has been negligent.

Maybe the conductor’s mistake stemmed from lack of experience. I heard that he was young. But, in any case, it’s too easy to blame him for this entire incident. He was the only person on board. There were no other staff members from the SNCFT in the train and there was no way to stop the train automatically. We were left to our own devices. Moreover, there wasn’t an ambulance or any rescue workers when the train did finally stop. I simply walked the rest of the way to work as if nothing had happened.