LUCKNOW, India – Rescuers using cutting torchers and cranes worked through the night to pull apart 14 coaches of a crowded train that went off the tracks in northern India, killing 23 people and injuring more than 80 others, officials said Sunday.
Two of the coaches piled on top of one another, while 12 others toppled off the tracks, said Arvind Kumar, a top official in Uttar Pradesh state, where the train derailed overnight.
Railway police and local volunteers helped pull passengers out of the upturned coaches of the Kalinga-Utkal Express, which was travelling to the Hindu holy city of Haridwar from the temple town of Puri, in the eastern state of Orissa.
As the day dawned, at least one official accused the railways of negligence, saying cracks in the track had been seen a day before and no train should have been allowed on the damaged line.
“We had spotted a break in the rail track on Friday and all day workers were at the site repairing the track,” said Rajendra Kumar, the station master at Khatauli, a small town where the accident took place.
Kumar said that some trains, moving very slowly, had passed earlier Saturday, which is why the Kalinga-Utkal Express too was allowed to move on the track.
“This train driver too had been cautioned to move very slowly. The engine and first four coaches stayed upright, while the next 14 coaches derailed,” Kumar said.
Federal Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an investigation, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences to the victims’ families and pledged monetary and other help.
Accidents are relatively common on India’s massive but poorly maintained railway network. Safety standards on the state-run system, which operates 9,000 passenger trains and carries some 23 million passengers every day, has been an ongoing concern amid a spate of accidents.