Fuel train explodes on main Georgian railway

A fuel train exploded on Sunday on Georgia’s main east-west rail line and police said it appeared to have hit a landmine.

Officials said the train was on the main track of the line linking eastern and western Georgia, a vital trade route for oil exports from Azerbaijan to European markets.

The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

A Reuters correspondent saw huge plumes of black smoke pouring from the wreckage of the train in the village of Skra, 5km west of Gori.

Russian troops left Gori, a key town in the Russia-Georgia conflict over breakaway South Ossetia, on Friday after a 10-day occupation. The explosion occurred near an abandoned Georgian military base.

Russian forces pushed into Georgia this month after repelling a Georgian offensive to retake breakaway South Ossetia from pro-Moscow separatists.

Moscow has now pulled back most of its tanks and troops, but said it would maintain checkpoints in a buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia and in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti.

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili told Reuters: ”According to very preliminary information, a train carrying fuel exploded on the railway, which we think was mined.”

There was no independent confirmation of Utiashvili’s comments.

Emergency services managed to unhitch 19 wagons and move them away from the fire, averting possible further explosions.

”We should find out first how big the fire is and how soon it will be extinguished, in order to assess the damage,” said Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze. ”But the railway is vital, not just for the Georgian economy but for the economies of neighbouring countries.”

The line runs through the capital Tbilisi before splitting in three and running to the Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi and southwest to just short of the Turkish border.

On August 16, an explosion downed a bridge on the line further east near the town of Kaspi. Russia denied Georgian accusations that it was behind the attack.

Oil exports were disrupted, but Azerbaijan said Georgia had offered a smaller, disused rail bridge for use until the damaged bridge was repaired. – Reuters

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