Search ongoing after train crash claims at least 23 lives

Fourth accident this year on the crumbling network

UTTAR PRADESH: Indian policemen and emergency crew stand next to the wreckage of a train carriage after an express train derailed on the evening of August 19 near the town of Khatauli. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Emergency crews searched mangled carriages yesterday for any further victims after a train crash in northern India killed 23 passengers, the fourth major accident this year on the crumbling network. Another 156 people were injured when 14 carriages came off the tracks in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh state, 130 kilometers from New Delhi, on Saturday evening.

The coaches were left piled atop each other after the express train derailed at 100 kilometers per hour, crashing into nearby houses and a college. Rescuers used gas-powered saws yesterday to pull apart the tangled metal and search the wreckage with sniffer dogs. “We are checking the coaches thoroughly for any survivors or bodies,” Anant Dev, Muzaffarnagar district police chief, told AFP.

A large crowd gathered at the accident site to help free passengers from the damaged carriages, many of which were upended and torn open. Some of the injured were seriously hurt but many had been released from hospital after receiving treatment, Dev added. The government has ordered an inquiry into the accident amid speculation unscheduled maintenance work was underway at the time.

Mohammad Jamshed, a senior official with the government’s railway board, said some repair equipment was found near the accident site-indicating work was being carried out. But he cautioned that the evidence was inconclusive and a thorough probe would unveil the exact cause of the crash. “The investigation will deal with all the aspects, be it technical, human error or sabotage,” Jamshed told reporters. Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu vowed in a Twitter message to “fix responsibility” for the crash. Authorities have also asked anti-terror officers to investigate whether sabotage was involved.

The Utkal-Kalinga express left Puri, a temple city in India’s coastal east, on Thursday evening and was scheduled to arrive in the northern Hindu holy city of Haridwar, a 2,400 kilometer journey. But survivors described sudden jolting followed by a violent crash near Khatauli railway station in Muzaffarnagar.

“There was a huge thud and a shake before I fell off the berth,” Nadeem Shauket, who escaped with minor injuries, told AFP. “It’s a miracle,” he said of his survival virtually unscathed, describing how hundreds of locals rushed to their rescue. Officials said 200 meters of track had been damaged in the accident, but it was hoped services would be restored by yesterday evening. India’s railway network is the world’s fourth largest and remains the main form of travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents often occur.

Experts blame under-investment and poor safety standards for the frequency of rail accidents. This latest derailment is the fourth major crash this year, and follows another accident in Uttar Pradesh last November that left 146 dead. In January nearly 40 people were killed when a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andra Pradesh.

A 2012 government report described the loss of 15,000 passengers to rail accidents every year in India as a “massacre”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged $137 billion over five years to modernize the crumbling railways and his government has signed numerous upgrading deals with private companies. Japan has agreed to provide $12 billion in soft loans to build India’s first bullet train, with Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tipped to break ground on the project in September. – AFP




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