India investigates train crash as death toll rises to 10

India investigates train crash as death toll rises to 10

The death toll from a train accident in India’s eastern state of West Bengal rose to 10 on Tuesday after a six-year-old girl succumbed to her injuries.

The Indian Railways announced an investigation into the accident which took place when a freight train rammed into a stationary passenger train, Kanchanjunga Express, in the New Jalpaiguri area on Monday.

The train, carrying 1,400 passengers, was travelling from the northeastern state of Tripura to Kolkata. At least 60 passengers sustained injuries and were taken to a local hospital.

The death toll was revised to nine from 15 late on Monday.

The investigation will consider eyewitness accounts and official documents and statements from railway officials about signalling and other mandatory safety issues, Chetan Kumar Shrivastava, general manager of the Northeast Frontier Railway, told Reuters on Tuesday.

The investigation was announced a day after Railway Board chair Jaya Varma Sinha alleged the driver of the freight train, who died in the accident, overshot the signal and hit the passenger train.

However, an internal document showed that the automatic signalling system had not been working since Monday morning and the driver was cleared to cross the red signals.

“Automatic Signalling has failed and you are hereby authorized to pass all automatic signals between RNI and CAT,” a letter issued to the freight train driver by a station master said, referring to Ranipatra Railway Station and Chattar Hat Junction.

“It is a matter of investigation why the station master did so. He might have been under the impression that the previous train crossed the station section and entered into another section,” news agency PTI quoted an unnamed railway source as saying.

Railway workers inspect the wreckage of the Kanchenjunga Express train (AFP via Getty Images)
Railway workers inspect the wreckage of the Kanchenjunga Express train (AFP via Getty Images)

Photos and videos of the collision showed a pile-up of coaches, with one nearly vertical in the air.

Services on the affected line resumed partially on Tuesday, with some trains diverted and a few running slower than usual, railway officials said.

The undamaged coaches of the Kanchanjunga Express reached their destination in Kolkata with 500 passengers.

Some passengers said they felt they were “not going to survive” the crash.

Arti Roy told AFP she lost her belongings when the carriages crumpled, twisted and flipped off the rails.

The accident took place a year after 290 people were killed in one of the country’s worst railway crashes, caused by a signalling error, in the neighbouring state of Odisha.

India has the world’s fourth largest train network, carrying 13 million people a day and nearly 1.5 billion tonnes of freight. But the trains are notorious for overcrowding and lax safety.

India’s opposition leaders criticised the railway safety record of Narendra Modi’s government, attributing it to negligence.

The country witnessed several hundred railway accident every year despite government’s claims of improving safety.

The Railway Board chair said the automatic train protection system developed by the India Railways needed to be expanded to West Bengal.

Mr Modi has announced a compensation of £1,890 each to the families of the dead and £472 to the injured.