As many as five hundred people are feared to have been killed in a collision between two trains in the Indian
province of West Bengal.
The collision occurred at around 01:30 (local time) and is thought to have been due to a signal failure. The accident, at Gaisal station involved the Brahmputra Mail train from Gauhati and the Awadh-Assam Express from New Delhi. The express was standing in the station when the mail train approached on the same line. Seven coaches of the first train and five of the second were destroyed. An "urgent" investigation has been started to try to determine the cause.
Estimates of the the number of dead have varied widely. One report issued at 09:00 (GMT) stated that 148 bodies had been recovered. However, such is the scale of the disaster, rescuers have been unable to reach a number of carriages buried beneath the wreckage.
Gaisal is in a very remote location near New Jalpaiguri (the site of a terrorist bomb attack at a station in June), 500 km (315 miles) north of Calcutta. The remoteness of the area has hampered rescue efforts. The nearest latge city is 14 miles by road. The limited medical facilities in the area are being stretched by the number of casualties being brought in.
Earlier reports suggested that there had been an explosion or bomb blast. Initially this was being blamed on separatist forces from the adjacent Assam district. A spokesperson for Indian Railways however refuted this saying "It is not an explosion or a bomb blast. It is a collision of two trains". It was however confirmed that the mail train was carring military supplies.
Rail travel is very popular in India. Some 11 million people are carried each day on a network of 62,000 kilometres. Accidents are also very common with about 300 occurring each year. This figure remains small however when compared with the number of trains operated.
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