NEW DELHI: Twenty four people have been killed after two packed trains derailed while crossing a bridge hit by floods in central India overnight Wednesday, authorities said, highlighting again safety problems with India’s crumbling railway network.
At least 24 bodies have been recovered so far and one person was seriously injured, said Bijendra Kumar, a railway official in Bhopal, the main city in Madhya Pradesh state.
Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju said more than 300 people have been rescued.
Rescuers had been searching in darkness for passengers feared trapped on the trains that were travelling in opposite directions when some of their carriages derailed in Madhya Pradesh state, officials said.
West Central Railway spokesman Piyush Mathur said the trains derailed within minutes of each other near the town of Harda at about 11:30 pm on Tuesday.
One of the trains travelling from the financial city of Mumbai appeared to have been hit by a sudden surge of water on the swollen Machak river, derailing the last four to five carriages, railway ministry spokesman Anil Saxena said.
The other passenger train, travelling to Mumbai from the eastern city of Patna, was also hit by water, with the engine and the first two to three carriages derailing, he said.
“There is some suggestion of flash floods on the tracks that caved the tracks. Most of the coaches had passed but the last few carriages were derailed,” Saxena told the network of the first train.
Monsoon rains have hit large swathes of the country in recent weeks, flooding rivers and roads and claiming some 180 lives in mainly western and eastern India.
Police and doctors have been deployed to the accident site, with television footage showing medical supplies being piled on a nearby station platform and rescuers combing through tilted carriages.
But rescuers said operations were hampered by flooding in the area and officers had to work through the night mostly in darkness.
“The entire area has been reeling under heavy rainfall for the last few days. The roads are badly damaged, even the access road,” Saxena said.
“Rushing emergency medical and other relief personnel to spot, darkness, water creating hurdles but ordered all possible help. Trying our best,” Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had said on Twitter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “The two train accidents in Madhya Pradesh are deeply distressing. Deeply pained over the loss of lives.”
India’s railway network, one of the world’s largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents are frequent.
In 2012, a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on India’s railways, describing the deaths as an annual “massacre” due mainly to poor safety standards.
India’s government has pledged to invest $137 billion to modernise its crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.