Death toll climbs to 96 as train derails in north India

LUCKNOW: At least 96 people were killed Sunday when 14 coaches of an overnight passenger train rolled off the track in northern India, with rescue workers using cutting torches to try to pull out survivors, police said.

Daljeet Chaudhary, a director general of police, said the death toll was likely to rise because rescue workers had yet to gain access to one of the worst-damaged coaches.

The bodies were retrieved from the mangled coaches that fell on their side after the train derailed at around 3:10 a.m., jolting awake passengers. More than 200 other passengers were injured as some coaches crumpled when they crashed into others, trapping hundreds of people inside.

"We are being very careful in using the cutting torches," Chaudhary said.

The derailment occurred near Pukhrayan, a village near the industrial city of Kanpur.

Rescuers used the torches to open the derailed train cars to reach those trapped inside, while cranes were deployed to lift the coaches from the tracks. However, rescue workers were moving cautiously as some of the coaches were precariously tilted and there was the danger of the coach toppling over, causing injuries to people trapped inside.

Medical teams were providing first aid near the site, while the more seriously injured were moved to hospitals in Kanpur, Chaudhary said. Around 200 people were injured, 72 of them seriously, he said.

Police were having a hard time keeping away hundreds of people from nearby villages who were the first to reach the accident site. "We have cordoned off some area near the coaches to keep people from hampering the rescue efforts," Chaudhary said.

Passenger Satish Kumar said that the train was traveling at normal speed when it stopped suddenly.

"It restarted, and then we heard a crash. When we came out of the train, we saw a few coaches had derailed," said Kumar, whose coach remained standing on the track.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his concern over the derailment.

"Anguished beyond words on the loss of lives due to the derailing of the Patna-Indore express. My thoughts are with the bereaved families," Modi posted on his Twitter account.

Kanpur is a major railway junction and hundreds of trains pass through the city every day. Several trains using the line have been diverted to other routes, Anil Saxena, spokesman for Indian Railways, said in New Delhi.

It was not immediately clear what caused the coaches to derail. Rail authorities have ordered an investigation into the accident, Saxena said.

Accidents are relatively common on India's sprawling rail network, which is one of the world's largest but lacks modern signaling and communication systems. Most crashes are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.

Trains are the most popular mode of transport for millions of Indians, with around 23 million using the country's vast railway network every day.

India's worst train accident occurred in 1981 near Saharsa Bihar when a passenger train fell into the Baghmati River, killing nearly 800 people. Several other major train crashes have claimed hundreds of lives each since then.