Top Indian officials headed for the northern city of Amritsar on Saturday after India’s latest rail disaster, with the tragedy likely to lead – yet again – to demands for safety reforms.
Officials were still scrambling to determine an accurate death toll from Friday’s accident, but most agreed it was around 60. However, dozens more were injured when a train plowed into a crowd of revelers watching a fireworks display, so the fatalities could rise.
Overwhelmed local hospitals ran out of space for the dead, forcing them to leave some bodies outside, Agence France-Presse reported.
India’s accident-plagued railway system records thousands of deaths each year. A 2012 government report described the loss of 15,000 passengers to rail accidents every year in India as a “massacre.”
Reports said that on Friday, a Jalandhar-Amritsar express train hit scores of people who had gathered on tracks to watch the burning of a fireworks-packed effigy of the demon king Ravana for a Hindu festival.
Police said victims did not hear the train arriving because the noise was drowned out by firecrackers.
Another train had narrowly missed the crowds two minutes earlier, officials said.
Many bodies were badly dismembered and police said identification of the victims could take several days, officials said.
The funerals of some victims were held on Saturday and the accident brought widespread demands for tough action by authorities.
Punjab state Governor V P Singh Badnore said: “Those who need to be punished will be punished and accountability will be fixed.”
The Indian government has pledged US$137 billion over five years to modernize the crumbling network.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal returned early from a trip to the United States to go to Amritsar on Saturday. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh called off a trip to Israel to go to the disaster scene.
– With reporting by AFP