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India: Gaisal Disaster - Death toll reaches 275

  : Wednesday, August 04, 1999
The number of dead in the Gaisal rail tragedy is now put at 275 according to a press statement from Indian Railways. The

number of injured is 310.

These figures come as hope fades of finding any more victims alive in the remains of the two trains which collided on Monday. Emergency workers have struggled for more than forty-eight hours to disentangle the wreckage. Initial rescue efforts were hampered by the remote location of the accident and a lack of suitable heavy-lifting gear and cutting tools. Two cranes are now in position and are being used to separate the mangled carriages.

Indian Railways has published a list of people injured and admitted to hospital.

The accident, which occurred at 01:55 (local time) on Monday August 2 is one of the worst to have occurred on Indian Railways. Two trains, the Brahmputra Mail train and the Awadh-Assam Express from New Delhi met in a head-on collision near Gaisal station in West Bengal. The trains which would normally be crowded with around 1000 passengers in each were travelling at speeds approaching 60 mph. The collision resulted in massive destruction to the locomotives and rolling stock. There appears to have been some telescoping of the leading vehicles and others rode over them. Fire broke out amongst the wreckage

Besides the locomotives, 13 passenger coaches were most affected. These include, in the Awadh-Assam Express one passenger-cum-guard-cum-luggage coach, three sleeper class coaches, one first class coach and one AC three-tier coach, while the affected coaches of the Brahmaputra Mail are, one passenger-cum-guard-cum-luggage coach, three ordinary second class coaches and three sleeper class coaches, according to IR.

The area is double-tracked and the trains should have passed each other on separate lines. Due to a fault, or an error they were travelling on the same track. Officials said the Awadh-Assam Express was mistakenly switched on to the wrong track at Kishanganj station, some 15km before the collision site. Police want to interview 4 railway signalling staff who reportedly "fled from the scene". Three of the men have since returned.

An investigation into the accident has been started and the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced that the Government is setting up a high-powered commission of inquiry to look into all aspects of railway safety.

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