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India: Gaisal train collision - Death toll continues to mount

  : Monday, August 02, 1999
The final death toll could exceed 500 as more bodies are brought out of the wreckage of a collision between two
Gaisal railway disaster (BBC)
trains in the Indian province of West Bengal.

Estimates continue to vary about how many may have perished when the two trains collided head-on in Gaisal Station near New Jalpaiguri. Jyoti Basu, the chief minister of West Bengal state said that 156 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage but added "The death toll is likely to be much more". Unofficial accounts from rescuers say that at least 200 bodies have been found. Such is the scale of the disaster, rescuers have been unable to reach a number of carriages buried beneath the wreckage.

The collision occurred at around 01:30 (local time) and 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. The wreckage caught fire and many of the victims are believed to have perished in the flames. A signalling error is thought to have caused the trains to be on the same line. An "urgent" investigation has been started to try to determine the cause of the accident

Gaisal is in a very remote location, 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.

Indian RailwaysRail 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.

India's worst train collision in terms of fatalities was at Firozabad in 1995. A head-on collision between the Purshottam express, which had come to a halt after hitting a cow and the Kalindi express claimed the lives of 358 people.

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This file last updated: Saturday, 04-Sep-1999 08:55:43 EDT
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