A speeding express rammed into the back of a stationary passenger train in eastern India today, killing more than 50 people and trapping others in the wreckage, officials said. The standing train was waiting to leave a station in Birbhum district, about 200km north of the West Bengal state capital Kolkata, when the express slammed into its rear carriages. The force of the impact lifted one wagon clear off the tracks and left it mounted on an overhead passenger bridge. An estimated 120 people were injured in the collision, 40 of them seriously, local police said.
Bodies and badly injured travellers were being pulled from the crumpled mass of steel by emergency services and members of a huge crowd of onlookers who had gathered around the site of the accident. "The death toll has crossed 50. We are still struggling to pull out some bodies," senior police officer Humayun Kabir said from the scene. It was not immediately clear what caused the accident, which occurred at around 2am when most passengers were sleeping.
It came less than two months after a train collision blamed on Maoist saboteurs killed nearly 150 people in West Bengal. In that incident, a Mumbai-bound high-speed passenger express from Kolkata veered off the tracks into the path of an oncoming freight train. Police officials said a section of the track had been removed. "We still have doubts in our minds about who is this behind this accident," the Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is from West Bengal, told reporters before leaving for the accident site.
"We are still finding out the details and we will take all necessary steps and action and find out who is behind this calamity." She said 49 people were confirmed dead. Compensation of 500,000 rupees (Dh39,000) was offered to the families of the dead and 100,000 rupees to the injured. "I was fast asleep on the top berth when there was this huge crash like an explosion," one passenger told the Times Now news channel.
"I was flung from the berth, and then people started shouting and there was complete panic," he said. Most of the dead were in the rear "unreserved" carriages, which are usually tightly packed, Sunil Banerjee, a local rail traffic manager said. "Relief trains have been rushed from Kolkata," he said. The Birbhum District Magistrate Soumitra Mohan said two compartments were so badly compacted that rescue workers had to try to access them through the roof using a blow torch.
"The death roll could mount further as there are probably more bodies trapped inside the two coaches," Mohan said. The state-run railway system - still the main form of long-distance travel in India despite fierce competition from new private airlines - carries 18.5 million people daily. There are 300 accidents on the railways every year, and past crashes have left hundreds dead. In 2002, 100 were killed and 150 hurt when a carriage plunged into a river in the northeastern state of Bihar, while in 1995 more than 300 died in a collision near Ferozabad, close to the Taj Mahal city of Agra.