BALASORE, India (AP) — More than 300 people were killed and hundreds injured in a train derailment in eastern India, India’s railway minister said Sunday, after a fault in an electronic signaling system led to train tracks being switched wrongly.
“The investigation will reveal who did it and what was the reason,” Ashwini Vaishnav told a New Delhi television network.
The explanation came as officials worked to clear the mangled wreckage of two passenger trains that derailed on Friday night in eastern Odisha state’s Balasore district in one of the country’s worst train accidents in decades.
An initial investigation suggested that the high-speed Coromandel Express was signaled to enter the main line, but the signal was later taken off and the train instead entered the nearby loop line, where it collided with a freight train. The collision caused the coaches of the Coromandel Express to overturn on another track, causing the oncoming Yeswantpur-Howrah Express to derail, triggering a three-train collision.
A total of 2,296 people traveled in passenger trains.
Freight trains often stop on the loop line on the side so the main line is clear of a passing train.
Fifteen bodies were recovered on Saturday evening and efforts continued through the night as heavy cranes were used to remove an engine from a train car. No bodies were found in the engine and the work was completed on Sunday morning, said Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of fire and emergency services in Odisha.
The accident comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi focuses on modernizing the British colonial-era railway network in India, which has become the world’s most populous nation with 1.42 billion people. Despite the government’s efforts to improve rail safetyHundreds of accidents occur every year on Indian RailwaysWorld’s largest rail network under one management.
Chaotic scenes erupted on Friday night as rescuers climbed atop the mangled trains, using cutting torches and breaking open doors and windows to rescue those trapped inside the carriages.
Modi visited the accident site on Saturday, inspected the relief efforts and spoke to rescue officials. He visited the hospital and asked the doctors about the treatment given to the injured and spoke to some of the patients.
Modi told reporters that he felt the pain of those who died in the accident. He said the government would do all it could to help them and those responsible would be severely punished.
10 to 12 coaches of a train derailed, and debris from some coaches fell onto the nearby track. All three coaches of the second train derailed after the debris collided with another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, Railway Ministry spokesman Amitabh Sharma said.
In 1995, 358 people died when two trains collided near New Delhi. In 2016, 146 people died after a passenger train derailed between Indore and Patna.
Most train accidents in India are due to human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people travel on 14,000 trains across India every day on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.
Sharma reported from New Delhi.