NEW DELHI — A train killed at least 37 pilgrims as they crossed a railroad track in eastern India yesterday morning, prompting an angry mob to set fire to the train and attack its two drivers, local officials said.
The accident took place at a station that is inaccessible by road, forcing rescue workers to walk several kilometres to reach the site, a regional police spokesman told Indian television.
Villagers began pelting the train with stones, and a passenger, reached by telephone, said he had seen a mob beating one train driver.
According to S K Bharadwaj, an Additional Director-General of Police overseeing security at the crash site, one of the drivers had died while another was struggling for his life in hospital, an AFP report said.
“It was all quite frightening,” said Mr Rohit Kumar, a passenger on board the train. “I’m standing here and watching smoke billowing out from the train.”
The police could not confirm the death toll by midday yesterday, about three hours after the accident, saying many bodies had been dismembered.
Mr S K Singh, the Deputy Magistrate of the Saharsa District, said 37 people were confirmed dead. That toll was expected to rise, however, and scores were said to be injured.
Yesterday was the last day of a holy month in the country, and many people were exiting at the station as they travelled to a temple a short distance away to offer holy water from the river Ganges to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.
Two passenger trains were stopped at the station when the train barrelled through on the middle of the station’s three tracks.
A top official at the Railway Ministry, Mr Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said the drivers had not been warned that pilgrims would be gathering at the station, which is about 200km from the capital of Bihar state. He said one driver had tried to brake when he saw people on the tracks but was unable to stop the train, which plowed into the crowd.
The Rayja Rani Express, a relatively new service connecting large cities, travels at a speed of about 80kmh and was not scheduled to stop at the station, Dhamara Ghat.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm in the area so that relief and rescue operations can be carried out without any hindrance, a statement from his office said.
Mr Arunendra Kumar, Chairman of the national Railway Board, said a preliminary investigation has been ordered by state authorities into the accident. Train services have now been suspended on the route. AGENCIES