Odisha derailment: Nearly 300 dead and 900 injured in three-train crash in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promises thorough investigation into 'extremely painful and disturbing' incident

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At least 288 people were killed and hundreds more injured when two express passenger trains and one for freight collided in India’s eastern Odisha state on Friday in one of the country's worst rail accidents.

A dozen coaches of the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai, derailed after it collided with the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bengaluru to Howrah, West Bengal.

The accident happened near Bahanaga railway station in Odisha's Balasore district at about 7 pm local time, Indian Railways said. The freight train was on an adjoining track.

Pradeep Kumar Jena, Odisha’s chief secretary, confirmed the number of deaths and told The National that about 900 passengers were "injured to varying degrees”.

The state's fire chief said the death toll could rise past 300.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at the scene on Saturday evening and spent nearly 40 minutes with rescue and emergency workers before visiting survivors at the Balasore district hospital.

He said the incident was "extremely painful and disturbing" and promised a thorough investigation and full support for the families of the victims.

"For those injured, the government is leaving no stone unturned for their treatment," Mr Modi said on television.

"For those whom we have lost, we can’t get them back but the government is with their families and sharing their pain.

"This incident is serious for the government and all investigations have been launched. Whoever will be found at fault will get strict punishment.

"I have no words to express the pain. God help us to sail through this painful hour. We will learn from this incident and improve the system for people's safety."

Odisha state declared a day of state mourning on Saturday.

The Coromandel Express was packed with passengers, said passenger Zamin, a resident of Kolkata’s Bardhaman area who was travelling to Chennai with eight friends.

"There were a lot of people on the train. Those with reservations, wait-listed and confirmed tickets, everyone. The train was jam-packed,” he told The National.

I can’t count how many decapitated bodies I saw and how many people without limbs. I passed out
Zamin, train passenger

“I can’t count how many decapitated bodies I saw and how many people without limbs were there. I passed out and came out of the mangled train after an hour.”

He said two of his friends were seriously injured.

Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, said earlier that the death toll stood at 288 but could approach 380.

"Many people who have been rushed to hospitals are succumbing there and we are still taking out the dead bodies," he told AFP from the crash site.

Pradeep Kumar Jena, Odisha’s chief secretary, told The National that about 900 passengers were "injured to varying degrees”.

He said the injured were being treated at hospitals in at least five districts.

The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the incident.

“Preliminary reports have revealed that several compartments went off the rails,” said Aditya Kumar Chowdhury, chief public relations officer of South Eastern Railway.

India train crash: Rescuers cut through mangled carriages

India train crash: Rescuers cut through mangled carriages

The Indian Railways network transports more than 12 million people every day. It has had a patchy safety record because of ageing infrastructure.

More than 40 trains were cancelled and at least 30 diverted following the accident.

Television footage showed rescue workers attempting to pull survivors out of upturned and mangled train carriages.

Bodies of the victims were being identified and released to relatives, Mr Jena said.

“All efforts are made to complete the autopsy and whichever bodies are identified will be handed over to kin or transported to respective destinations,” he said.

About 100 ambulances were sent to the scene. Buses were also used to take the injured to hospitals. Residents began donating blood for the injured early on Saturday.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed expressed his sincere condolences and solidarity with India in a tweet.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukraine's President Voldymyr Zelenskyy also offered their condolences in messages posted on Twitter.

"The images and reports of the train crash in Odisha, India break my heart," Mr Trudeau said.

The chaotic scene after two passenger trains collided in India's Odisha on Friday. Reuters

Mr Modi said earlier that he had spoken to Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Mr Vaishnaw reached the site on Saturday morning and said an inquiry had been set up “to understand the root cause of the accident”.

"It's a big, tragic accident," he told reporters after inspecting the scene. "Our complete focus is on the rescue and relief operation, and we are trying to ensure that those injured get the best possible treatment."

He also announced compensation of one million rupees ($12,000) to the families of the dead, 200,000 rupees for those seriously hurt and 50,000 rupees for those with minor injuries.

Injured passengers at a hospital in Balasore district. AP

India has the world's second-largest railway network. Millions of people travel on trains for daily commutes and longer journeys.

In recent years, safety standards have improved and the number of accidents has fallen. The government says it plans to invest nearly $130 billion to modernise the decades-old network.

At least nine people were killed and dozens injured after multiple coaches derailed in West Bengal state in January last year.

In 2016 at least 150 people died and more than 150 were injured after several coaches derailed in the northern city of Kanpur.

Updated: June 03, 2023, 3:14 PM