Patna: At least 37 people were killed when an Indian express train ploughed into a crowd of pilgrims crossing the tracks of a railway station in the eastern state of Bihar, prompting an angry mob to set fire to the train and attack its driver, officials said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the victims included 13 women and four children. Dozens of others who sustained injuries were admitted to a local hospital.
The majority of the victims were Hindu pilgrims who were crossing the track — the only way to reach a nearby temple — when the train ran them over at the packed and chaotic station, officials and witnesses said.
Witnesses said the victims had no chance to escape as two other passenger trains had stopped at the Dhamara Ghat station when the Patna-bound Rajya Rani Express barrelled through on the middle of the station’s three tracks. Railway official Arunendra Kumar said some pilgrims were waiting on the tracks thinking they could stop the express train.
Junior railway minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the train staff had not been warned that pilgrims would be gathering at the station, which is about 124 miles from Patna, the capital of Bihar. He said the driver had tried to brake when he saw people on the tracks but was unable to stop. The Rayja Rani Express, a relatively new service connecting large cities, travels at a speed of about 80km per hour and was not scheduled to stop at Dhamara Ghat.
Following the violent protests, both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kumar appealed for calm. Singh directed the Railway Ministry to deploy all available resources for rescue and relief operations.
Kumar announced a compensation of Rs200,000 for the family of each victim and free medical treatment for the injured.
But local villagers said negligence on the part of the railway administration and the state government led to the disaster. They said the local administration did not coordinate with the railway officials and ask them to stop train traffic on the route despite Monday being the last date for pilgrims to offer prayers at the temple. The opposition BJP slammed the state government for a delayed response and said it should have used helicopters to rush rescue teams to the spot if the accident site was inaccessible.