At least 25 people were killed and 45 injured early on Tuesday when a passenger train slammed into a stationary goods train in southern India, rail officials said.
The sleeper train crashed into the parked goods train at Penneconda station in Andhra Pradesh state as it was travelling overnight to Bangalore, the information-technology hub and capital city of Karnataka state.
“The number of deaths now is 25 and 45 are injured out of which some have minor injuries but 10 are grievously hurt,” railway ministry spokeswoman Chandralekha Mukherjee told AFP in New Delhi.
The Andhra Pradesh state police said the bodies of 16 of the victims travelling in a carriage behind the engine were badly burnt as it caught fire following the collision.
“The coach was meant only for women but it is not possible to say if the bodies are women or men as they are charred,” Charu Sinha, deputy inspector general of Andhra Pradesh police, told AFP from the crash site.
“There are no more bodies in the wreckage as (rescue and salvage) operations are now over,” she said by telephone.
A police statement said bodies were taken out after rescuers sliced through the crushed carriages with mechanical cutters and used cranes brought from Bangalore.
“It appears that the driver of the passenger train overshot a signal and hit the goods train, but we are awaiting the results of an inquiry,” Mukherjee said.
Television footage from the scene showed mangled, upturned coaches with rescue workers carrying injured passengers out on stretchers by torchlight before dawn.
“When the train stopped with a loud bang, I got down to see burning passengers crying for help,” Munijayendra, 25, who uses only one name, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
“I will not be able to sleep for many days to come as their cries will be ringing in my ears,” he said. “The worst part is we were helpless as the heat was just unbearable”.
Rescuers and medical officials worked through the day, hacking through the twisted metal to get to those trapped inside the overturned carriages.
PTI said that the driver of the train had survived the impact but was unconscious.
“Every life is precious. This is a very sad incident,” Railway Minister Mukul Roy, who arrived at the site of the accident on Tuesday afternoon, told reporters.
He promised compensation for the injured and families of the dead.
India's rail network is still the main form of long-distance travel in the country despite fierce competition from private airlines.
The last major train accident in India occurred in July last year when a packed express train travelling from Kolkata to New Delhi derailed at high speed in the state of Uttar Pradesh, killing 69 people.
India's worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people. - Sapa-AFP