At least 300 passengers died and 400 others were injured Sunday when a passenger train rammed another train that had stopped suddenly after hitting a cow, news agencies reported.
Nearly 20 hours after the collision, rescue workers still were pulling bodies from the twisted debris and expected the death toll to rise. Cranes were being used to lift the smashed cars, which had telescoped into one another.
“The entire area was reverberating with cries and shrieks,” said passenger Manas Patnaik.
“I stumbled several times on severed limbs and some people - I don’t know whether they were sleeping or dead,” Patnaik, 29, told the United News press agency.
The accident outside Firozabad railway station in northern India occurred when a signalman sent the Puroshottam Express onto a track without realizing that the Kalindi Express had stopped ahead, the Press Trust of India news agency said, quoting unnamed railroad officials.
The three rear cars of the Kalindi Express and the engine and two first cars of the other train crumpled like balls of paper, Press Trust said.
Railway officials said most of the 2,200 passengers aboard the two trains were sleeping when the collision occurred. Both trains were bound for New Delhi, 185 miles north of Firozabad.
The injured were admitted to hospitals in Firozabad and in the nearby towns of Tundla and Agra.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who has temporarily taken charge of the railway’s workforce, ordered his deputy health minister to rush to the accident site with medical supplies, doctors and emergency aid.
The Cabinet minister responsible for railways is currently in the United States for heart surgery.
The crash was one of the worst, if not the worst, in India’s history.
In 1981, a crash that also reportedly involved a cow killed more than 200 people when a train plunged into a river in the northern state of Bihar.
Initially more than 500 were thought to have died. Ultimately, more than 300 bodies were found, several dozen passengers were rescued and many more remained missing.
More than 100 people were killed in 1988 when a passenger train fell into a lake in the southern state of Kerala.
India’s railroads represent a crucial economic lifeline for the country. Thousands of trains transport more than four million people every day as well as hundreds of thousands of tons of coal, oil, food grains and steel.
This country has the fourth largest railroad network in the world. It relies heavily on old track and switching equipment.
The railway department has undertaken a program of modernization and computerization but the program continues to progress slowly.
Before Sunday’s accident, 220 people had died this year in six rail crashes in India.