PHANAGA, India (Reuters) – Rescuers and families searched mangled train cars on Sunday for more victims of India’s worst railway accident in more than two decades, with signal failure emerging as a possible cause.
At least 275 people were killed on Friday when a passenger train collided with a stationary freight train, derailed and collided with another passenger train traveling in the opposite direction near Balasore district of the eastern state of Odisha.
The death toll, which was earlier estimated at 288, was revised downward on Sunday after the number of dead bodies was found twice, a statement from Chief Secretary of Odisha Pradeep Jena told ANI news agency.
Five other bodies were brought to a school used as a burial ground near the site of the accident early Sunday.
“We don’t know how many bodies will come,” said one of the health workers.
State-run Indian Railways, which says it transports more than 13 million people daily, is improving on a safety record patchy due to aging infrastructure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces elections next year, visited the site on Saturday to talk to rescue workers, inspect the wreckage and meet some of the nearly 1,200 injured. “Those found guilty will be severely punished,” Modi said.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the Coromandel Express, bound for Chennai from Kolkata, deviated from the main track and entered a loop track – a side track used to stop trains – at less than 130 km/h (81 mph) and crashed into a train, a railway official said. Freight was parked on the circular track.
The collision caused the engine and the first four or five coaches of the Coromandel Express to jump the tracks and topple over and hit the last two or three coaches of the Yeshwantpur-Howrah train heading in the opposite direction at about 115 km/h at the same time. The person said the second main course.
This caused the Yeshwantpur Howrah train to also jump off the tracks and resulted in a massive wreck, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The source said that the drivers of the two passenger trains were injured, but they survived the accident.
Workers with heavy machinery were removing damaged track, wrecked trains and electric cables, while their relatives were distraught.
The Ministry of Railways said on Twitter that more than 1,000 people had taken part in the rescue operation.
“The aim is by Wednesday morning, the restoration work is fully completed and the tracks should be operational,” said Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishinau.
In a shopping mall where bodies are taken away for identification, dozens of relatives waited, many crying and clutching identification cards and photos of their missing loved ones.
Kanchan Chowdhury, 49, was looking for her husband at the centre. Five people from her village were traveling on the train, including four being treated in hospital for injuries. Kanchan Choudhury told Reuters her husband was found dead crying as she waited to claim compensation at an office at the centre, holding her and her husband’s identity cards.
Vaishnau said on Saturday that the families of those killed will receive 1 million rupees ($12,000) in compensation, while those seriously injured will receive 200,000 rupees, and 50,000 rupees for minor injuries.
US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed their condolences.
Reporting by Jatindra Dash and YB Rajesh. Additional reporting by Jayshree Upadhyay; Writing by Ira Dougal; Editing by Robert Purcell and Sonali Paul
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