AT least 40 people were killed yesterday when a passenger train derailed and crashed into a parked freight train in northern India, officials said.
The Gorakhpur Express passenger train was travelling at high speed at the time. The driver slammed on the brakes in an attempt to stop, but the service ploughed into the stationary freight train near a station in Uttar Pradesh state, district magistrate Bharat Lal said.
Six of the cars on the express train derailed, with one car taking the brunt of the impact and containing most of the 40 casualties found so far, senior police officer Amrendra Sainger said.
“It has been reduced to a mangled iron mesh,” he said. “We do not know how many people were there.” While the car officially seats 72, such trains are often filled beyond capacity.
Railway spokesman Anil Saxena said doctors and paramedics were sent to the site and machines to cut apart the coaches to reach trapped passengers had also been deployed.
Narendra Modi, who took over as India’s prime minister yesterday, said: “My condolences to families of those who lost their lives in the Gorakhdham express tragedy; my prayers with the injured.”
“I spoke to the cabinet secretary and asked him to take an overview of the situation and ensure timely assistance to those injured.”
Villagers were the first to reach the scene after the accident, about six miles from the nearest road. Indian TV broadcast images of people assisting the injured amid piles of strewn luggage.
Villager Ram Chander Chaudhry told a news channel: “I was working in the field when I heard the whistle of the engine, and suddenly I heard the sound of a crash. It was a terrible sound; it still reverberates in my ears.
“Within minutes I reached [the crash site] and saw the train has been derailed.”
Most of the victims had been farm workers returning to their homes from the neighbouring state of Haryana, local police official Zameer Ahmad said. The passenger train had left from the town of Hissar in Haryana and was just 29 miles from its final destination of Gorakhpur when the accident happened, about 140 miles south-east of the state capital, Lucknow.
Because of the remote location, it was difficult to start rescue operations immediately, Mr Ahmad said, adding: “By the time police and rail officials reached the spot, villagers and other passengers had moved the injured away.”
Authorities were searching for the station master, who disappeared after the incident. But officials said it was too early to say what had gone wrong, and that they were investigating everything from mechanical failure to human error.
The express train’s driver died yesterday from serious injuries, while the assistant driver was still in a critical condition in hospital, railway official Alok Kumar said.
Accidents are common on India’s rail network, one of the world’s largest with 20 million people riding daily on about 11,000 passenger trains. Most accidents are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.