Argentine leader hints at renationalizing trains

By Michael Warren

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 6:10 p.m. MST

In this picture released by Argentina's Press Office, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, right, waves to supporters as she attends a ceremony marking the bicentennial of the creation of the Argentinean flag in Rosario, Argentina, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Fernandez urged investigators Monday to determine responsibility for last week's deadly train crash soon, and hinted she may move toward renationalizing railways.

Argentina's Press Office, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez urged investigators Monday to determine responsibility for last week's deadly train crash soon, and hinted she may move toward renationalizing railways.

Fernandez also took on those who criticized her for waiting five days to comment publicly on the tragedy that killed 51 people and injured more than 700 in Argentina's capital. Saying she knows death and pain intimately, she said no one should expect her to offer simplistic solutions or pose for photographs with survivors.

"I will never speculate with death," Fernandez said in a speech that made repeated references to her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.

Fernandez described her government as the best protector of the people, and while she never used the word "nationalize" in her speech, she argued forcefully for government-run solutions to Argentina's challenges.

"I will make the necessary decisions as soon as the justice system rules," she said. "I ask this of the justice system: that this probe to determine those directly and indirectly responsible not take more than 15 days. The 40 million Argentines and this president want to know who is responsible."

Fixing the deteriorating commuter rail system will be complex and costly, requiring huge investments from a strong and well-funded national government, the president said.

But "we need to bring back the railroad system we had in Argentina," she added, drawing strong applause from a crowd gathered in the northern city of Rosario to celebrate the bicentennial of the creation of Argentina's flag.

Many of Fernandez's supporters have pushed her to end the concession granted to the private Trains of Buenos Aires company, which officials say has repeatedly failed to meet safety requirements since it won the contract for a third of the capital's commuter rail system in a 1990s privatization.

The company has blamed the government for the problems, saying ticket prices and subsidies are set too low to both fund needed improvements and pay salaries and benefits to unionized employees.

Unions say the company has ignored their warnings of safety shortcomings, and Argentina's auditor general blames both the company and regulators for failing to act.

The justice system, meanwhile, has taken years to pursue allegations that TBA executives bribed a former transportation secretary with expensive trips while he managed the subsidies.

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