Indian railways chief steps down after deadly crashes

Photo: AFP

The head of India's railways has quit after a series of deadly accidents on the crumbling network, an official said Wednesday.

The move came days after 23 people were killed when a train derailed in northern India, the fourth major disaster on the country's railways this year.

K. Mittal, who had been in the post since 2014, will be succeeded by Ashwani Lohani, a former engineer credited with helping state-run Air India turn its first profit after over a decade of losses.

"Mr Lohani has been appointed as the chairman of railway board. Mr Mittal's resignation has been accepted," a railway official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A formal announcement was expected late Wednesday.

The government has come under pressure after a series of accidents, including a derailment on Wednesday morning that injured scores of passengers.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu indicated on Wednesday that he had offered his resignation to the prime minister, who had asked him to hold off.

Prabhu tweeted that he was "extremely pained by the unfortunate accidents, injuries to passengers and loss of precious lives" and took full moral responsibility.

The latest deadly accident occurred on Saturday in Uttar Pradesh state, the same state where 146 people were killed in an accident last November.

In January nearly 40 people died when a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andra Pradesh.

The network is the world's fourth largest by distance and remains the main form of travel in the vast country, with 22 million passengers commuting daily.

But it is poorly funded and deadly accidents occur frequently, with experts blaming under-investment and poor safety standards.

A 2012 government report described the loss of 15,000 passengers to rail accidents every year in India as a "massacre".