Fifteen die as train derails in West Bengal

Kolkata, May 28 (IANS) At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 injured early Friday when the engine and 12 coaches of a Kurla-bound passenger train derailed and were hit by a speeding goods train in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district, officials and witnesses said.

Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh said five bodies had been recovered from the site near Jhargram, about 155 km from here.

But railway officials said 15 people were dead which union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai confirmed in Delhi.

‘Fifteen people are dead. We are confirming what led to the accident,’ Pillai told IANS.

Singh told IANS in Kolkata that the Howrah-Kurla Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express ran off the track at 1.30 a.m. because a portion of the tracks as well as fish plates were found removed.

Initial reports had said that a huge blast was to blame for the derailment but it was not confirmed.

‘There could have been a blast. But the train derailed primarily because of the missing fishplates and rail tracks,’ Singh told IANS.

Villagers and railway officials frantically tried to rescue passengers still trapped in the fallen bogies.

As soon as the engine and 12 successive coaches fell on the adjoining track, rudely shaking the sleeping passengers, at least two derailed bogies were hit by a speeding goods train coming from the opposite direction.

‘We heard a loud, screeching noise of the train braking and the coaches derailing,’ said a shocked passenger who survived the accident.

No one claimed responsibility for the sabotage but most people believe it was the handiwork of Maoist guerrillas active in the region.

Security forces are conducting anti-Maoist operation in West Bengal’s West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts, angering the leftwing rebels.

While unofficial sources said death toll could be as high as 30, Singh said 115 people had been injured in varying degrees.

The injured passengers were taken to the nearest major town Kharagpur and elsewhere in West Midnapore district. Many of those wounded are believed to be in serious condition.

Four second class sleepers – S3, S4, S5 and S6 – were badly mutilated, with rescuers fearing that most of the passengers trapped inside could be gravely hurt.

The condition of the crew of the goods train was not immediately known.