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India: Gaisal catastrophe - Death toll reaches 250

  : Monday, August 02, 1999
As details continue to emerge about the accident between two trains in the northern Indian state of West Bengal,
Gaisal railway disaster (BBC)
the death toll is now greater than 250.

The final figure could exceed 500 as more bodies are brought out of the wreckage. At 17:00 (GMT) a spokesperson for Indian Railways stated that rescuers had reached the last but one of the carriages which had been buried beneath the shattered coaches. Sources suggest that as many as 300 people were travelling in these coaches. The scale of the destruction has made reaching the last carriages a difficult task for rescue workers.

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 trains would normally carry around 1000 passengers each. The two trains met on the same line with an impact so severe that one of the locomotives "flew" into the air. None of the crew from either locomotive survived. 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.

The cause of the accident is uncertain. An "urgent" investigation is to be started to determine how and why the two trains came to be on the same line. Unusually, this is to be conducted my the Ministry of Civil Aviation, not the Railways. This, according to a government spokesman is to ensure an "impartial report."

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 and many casualties are being treated in military hospitals.

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 including explosives.

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 08:55:49 EDT
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