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21 February 2024

27 killed in latest India rail disaster

Pic: AFP


Rescuers battled to pull survivors Sunday from the wreckage of a train crash which killed at least 27 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 11:00 pm (1730 GMT) on Saturday night near Kuneru railway station in the remote district of Vizianagram in Andhra Pradesh state.

"We can confirm the death toll has gone up to 27 and 50 people have been injured," J. P. Mishra, a spokesman for East Coast Railways, told AFP.

"There is a possibility that the toll may go up. Rescue efforts are on."

The accident comes only two months after nearly 150 people were killed in a similar disaster, highlighting the malaise on a network which is one of the largest in the world.

Mishra said that the injured have been shifted to two nearby hospitals.

National railway spokesman Anil Saxena said government officials as well as emergency workers worked through the night in a bid to locate survivors.

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.

Mishra could not give an immediate cause for the derailment, but said the case was under investigation and would not rule out any angle including sabotage.

He told the NDTV news network there were some 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.

Frequent accidents

The train was travelling from the city of Jagdalpur to Bhubaneswar when it came off the track nearly 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Visakhapatnam, the nearest city to the accident site.

Rail traffic on the coast line has been suspended.

India's railway network is still the main form of long-distance travel in 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 over five years to modernise the crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.

Writing on Twitter, Modi sent his condolences to the victims' families.

"My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones... The tragedy is saddening," said the prime minister.

Modi's government has signed numerous deals with private companies to upgrade the ageing network.

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