At least 261 people were killed and hundreds more injured when two express passenger trains and one for freight collided in India’s eastern Odisha state on Friday in one of the country’s worst rail accidents. The state’s fire chief said the death toll could rise past 300.
A dozen coaches of the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai, derailed after it collided with the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bengaluru to Howrah, West Bengal, near Bahanaga railway station in the state’s Balasore district, Indian Railways said. The freight train was on an adjoining track.
The accident occurred at about 7 pm. The South Eastern Railway said shortly before noon that there were 261 confirmed deaths. Odisha state declared a day of state mourning on Saturday.
The Coromandel Express was packed with passengers, said passenger Jamin, a resident of Kolkata’s Bhardwan area who was travelling to Chennai with eight friends. “There were a lot of people on the train. Those with reservations, wait-listed and confirmed tickets, everyone. The train was jam-packed,” he told sources.
“I can’t count how many decapitated bodies I saw and how many people without limbs were there. I passed out and came out of the mangled train after an hour.” He said two of his friends were seriously injured.
Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, said earlier that the death toll stood at 288 but could approach 380. “Many people who have been rushed to hospitals are succumbing there and we are still taking out the dead bodies,” he told AFP from the crash site.
Pradeep Kumar Jena, Odisha’s chief secretary, told sources that about 900 passengers were “injured to varying degrees”. He said the injured were being treated at hospitals in at least five districts.
The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the incident. “Preliminary reports have revealed that several compartments went off the rails,” said Aditya Kumar Chowdhury, chief public relations officer of South Eastern Railway.
The Indian Railways network transports more than 12 million people every day. It has had a patchy safety record because of ageing infrastructure. More than 40 trains were cancelled and at least 30 were diverted following the accident. Television footage showed rescue workers attempting to pull survivors out of upturned and mangled train carriages.
Bodies of the victims were being identified and released to relatives, Mr Jena said. “All efforts are made to complete the autopsy and whichever bodies are identified will be handed over to kin or transported to respective destinations,” he said.
About 100 ambulances were sent to the scene. Buses were also used to take the injured to hospitals. Residents began donating blood for the injured early on Saturday.
India has the world’s second-largest railway network. Millions of people travel on trains for daily commutes and longer journeys.
In recent years, safety standards have improved and the number of accidents has fallen. The government says it plans to invest nearly $130 billion to modernise the decades-old network.