LUCKNOW: At least 96 passengers, most of whom were sleeping, were killed when an express train derailed in northern India early Sunday, police said.
Rescue workers were searching for survivors believed still trapped inside the badly mangled coaches of the Patna-Indore express after the crash near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh state. Police initially put the death toll at 63 but revised the figure later.
“The death toll has unfortunately increased and it is 96 now,” Daljit Singh Chawdhary, the additional police director-general, told reporters, adding 150 were injured.
All local hospitals have been placed on alert and more than 30 ambulances have been deployed.
TV footage showed rescue workers using gas cutters and other equipment to slice through severely mangled coaches strewn with suitcases and other luggage. Â Witnesses spoke of being woken by a huge bang and being thrown around.
“We woke up to a great thud this morning. It was pitch dark and the noise was deafening,” a passenger told reporters as he waited with his family at the scene. “I am lucky to be alive and safe. But it was a near-death experience for us.”
‘Shaken to core’
Nitika Trivedi, a student who boarded the train with her family from the eastern city of Patna, said images of the bodies of her fellow passengers would long haunt her.
“I had never seen something like this in my life before. I am shaken to the core.”
Railway officials said special trains had been pressed into service for stranded travellers.
“We are also trying to clear the tracks and complete the restoration work as quickly as possible,” Vijay Kumar, a spokesman for north-central railways, told AFP.
National Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu said in a tweet the government would investigate what caused the derailment and announced compensation for the victims.
IndiaÂ´s railway network, one of the worldÂ´s largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents occur relatively frequently. In 2014 an express train ploughed into a stationary freight train, also in Uttar Pradesh, killing 26 people. And last year 27 people died after two trains derailed in Madhya Pradesh state during heavy rain.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “anguished beyond words” by the loss of life in the latest accident.
In 2012 a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on IndiaÂ´s railways, describing the deaths as an annual “massacre”. ModiÂ´s government has pledged to invest $137 billion over five years to modernise the crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.