Six people are in critical condition after a collision between two Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains in Kuala Lumpur on May 24 evening, with preliminary reports indicating that a human error led to the incident which sent dozens to hospital.

Malaysian transport minister Wee Ka Siong told a virtual news conference on May 25: “It was due to the mistake by the person driving the train in the wrong direction.”

He said early reports from the Land Public Transport Agency indicated that the hostler, or driver, of an empty train on a test run heading towards a depot had manually driven it in the wrong direction, after the train timed out at a station stop and could no longer be automatically operated.

This, he said, caused it to collide with an automated train that was ferrying 213 passengers.

Wee said both the trains were initially heading in the same direction, when Train 40, which was empty and was ahead, stalled at a station, causing the hostler to manually operate the train.

He said Train 40 was manually driven by the hostler because the automatic system in the coach was found to be faulty.

“The driver was then ordered to manually drive the coach from the Kampung Baru station towards the Dang Wangi station.”

But instead of continuing the journey southbound, the hostler sent the train northbound, causing it to collide with the other train, which was southbound, he said.

Wee said 64 individuals are receiving treatment in hospital, with six of them in critical condition.

“Another 15 are partially critical,” Wee said, without giving details.

A total of 47 others were seriously injured in the crash, while another 166 were lightly injured.

An investigation committee headed by top civil servants from the transport ministry and experts from the rail industry will be formed in the aftermath of the crash, the minister said.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on May 24 called for a probe into the accident by the ministry and train operator Prasarana Malaysia, and urged that “stern action be taken”.

Prasarana has said it will bear the medical costs of all the victims of the crash, and had also said every person on the train will receive 1,000 ringgit ($240) as compensation.

Wee said on May 25: “Prasarana will also bear the living costs for anyone who loses their income as a result of this accident.”

The accident is the first crash involving the LRT in its 23-year service since the Kelana Jaya rail line was opened in 1998.

The Kelana Jaya LRT line is Malaysia’s busiest rail line and is one of several train systems that serve capital city Kuala Lumpur and the neighbouring Selangor districts.

The crash occurred in an underground tunnel near the Kampung Baru station, a short distance away from the neighbouring station at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre that anchors the Petronas Twin Towers.

The crash happened just hours before Malaysia tightened its movement control protocols to tackle the worsening coronavirus situation.

Rail services, including the LRT, from May 25 reduced passenger capacity by half and also lowered train frequency to discourage people from moving around. But this has caused passenger congestion at the stations of most train systems.

Malaysia is entering the third week of a month-long third lockdown following the worst wave of Covid-19 which has seen record infections, record deaths and record admissions in critical wards, which are in short supply.