At least 36 killed in latest India train disaster

Eight coaches and the engine of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar express derailed.

People and rescuers look for passengers in the derailed train in Kuneru, southeast India. NNIS TV / AFP
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NEW DELHI // Rescuers battled to pull survivors Sunday from the wreckage of a train crash which killed at least 36 passengers in southern India, the latest in a series of disasters on the country’s creaking rail network.

Eight coaches and the engine of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar express derailed at around 11pm on Saturday night near Kuneru railway station in the remote district of Vizianagram in Andhra Pradesh state.

“The death toll has gone up to 36. It is a possibility that it may rise further,” said Anil Kumar Saxena, national railway spokesman.

Another railways official, J P Mishra, earlier said about 50 injured people had been taken to nearby hospitals.

The accident comes only two months after nearly 150 people were killed in a similar disaster, highlighting the malaise on one of the world’s largest railway networks.

Mr Saxena said government officials and emergency workers worked through the night to locate survivors.

The spokesman said investigators were considering possible sabotage of the tracks by Maoist rebels, who he said were active in the area.

“It is being looked into, it is one of the many angles we are looking into,” he said.

“There is some suspicion [of sabotage] because two other trains had crossed over smoothly using the same tracks earlier in the night.”

Police in Odisha, where the train was headed, dismissed any involvement by Maoist rebels, known as Naxals, in the derailment.

“We totally reject any possibility of Maoist involvement in the derailment. Kuneru is not a Naxal-hit area,” a senior intelligence officer was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.

Television footage showed a line of carriages lying on their sides as rescuers in neon orange safety vests and hard hats tried to hoist passengers through the windows while locals gathered to peer at the rescue effort.

Other images showed injured victims on hospital beds and stretchers, with their limbs swathed in bandages.

Mr Saxena said there were about 600 people in the carriages that derailed and most of them had been shifted to “the unaffected portion of the train” in time.

He added that 10 buses have been arranged for the passengers who escaped injury to travel to Bhubaneswar, capital of neighbouring Odisha state.

The train was travelling from the city of Jagdalpur to Bhubaneswar when it came off the track nearly 160 kilometres from Visakhapatnam, the nearest city to the accident site.

Rail traffic on the coast line was suspended.

India’s railway network is still the main form of long-distance travel across the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents occur relatively frequently.

On Friday, 10 coaches of an express train were derailed in western Rajasthan state leaving many passengers with minor injuries.

The latest deadly incident comes two months after 146 people were killed when a passenger train was derailed near Kanpur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in one of the country’s worst rail disasters in decades.

Last month, two people were killed and dozens injured after another train derailed, also near Kanpur.

In 2014, an express train ploughed into a stationary freight train, also in Uttar Pradesh, killing 26 people.

A 2012 government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on India’s railways and described the loss of life as an annual “massacre”.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has pledged to invest $137 billion (Dh503bn) over five years to modernise the railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.

Mr Modi sent condolences to the victims’ families.

“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones ... The tragedy is saddening,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter.

His government has signed numerous deals with private companies to upgrade the ageing network.

Japan has agreed to provide $12bn in soft loans to build India’s first bullet train, though plans remain in their infancy.

* Agence France-Presse