27 killed, 25 injured when two trains derail while crossing flood-hit bridge in India

Two Indian passenger trains lay next to each other following a derailment after they were hit by flash floods on a bridge outside the town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh state.
Two Indian passenger trains lay next to each other following a derailment after they were hit by flash floods on a bridge outside the town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh state. PHOTO: AFP
Indian officials stand next to two passenger trains on top of each other following a derailment after they were hit by flash floods on a bridge outside the town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh state.
Indian officials stand next to two passenger trains on top of each other following a derailment after they were hit by flash floods on a bridge outside the town of Harda in Madhya Pradesh state. PHOTO: AFP
Police and members of the rescue operation standing at the site of a train derailment near Harda, Madhya Pradesh, in this handout provided by ANI.
Police and members of the rescue operation standing at the site of a train derailment near Harda, Madhya Pradesh, in this handout provided by ANI. PHOTO: REUTERS
Officials and members of the rescue operation standing in a carriage of a derailed train near Harda, Madhya Pradesh in this handout provided by ANI.
Officials and members of the rescue operation standing in a carriage of a derailed train near Harda, Madhya Pradesh in this handout provided by ANI. PHOTO: REUTERS
Police and members of the rescue operation standing at the site of a train derailment near Harda, Madhya Pradesh in this handout provided by ANI.
Police and members of the rescue operation standing at the site of a train derailment near Harda, Madhya Pradesh in this handout provided by ANI. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - At least 27 people have been killed after two packed trains derailed while crossing a bridge hit by floods in central India overnight on Wednesday, the authorities said, highlighting again safety problems with the nation's crumbling railway network.

Rescuers have 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, the officials said.

The trains derailed within minutes of each other near the town of Harda at about 11.30 pm on Tuesday.

"There have been 27 deaths due to the accidents," Madhya Pradesh railway police chief M. S. Gupta told AFP.

"All the coaches have been cleared and all bodies have been collected from inside," he said, adding that the death toll could still rise slightly.

Roughly 300 people were rescued after about 10 of the trains' carriages derailed outside the town of Harda at about 11.30 pm on Tuesday, police and other officials said.

A passenger described how water poured into the carriages in the minutes after the accident. "Water filled the coach till here," the unnamed man told a regional TV station, gesturing to his waist. Another said there was "a sudden jerk and the carriage broke and people were crushed under that".

Television footage showed carriages lying on their sides in a field of mud and medical supplies piled on a nearby station platform.

Another 25 people have been injured and taken to hospital, a second official said, adding that the carriages have not fallen into the river.

The two trains derailed within minutes of each other while crossing a bridge in central India, local media reported on Wednesday.

One of the trains was on its way to Mumbai when the accident happened in Madhya Pradesh state, while the other was travelling in the opposite direction, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

It was not clear how many passengers the trains were carrying.

The Kamayani Express 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 told Indian television.

The Janata Express, travelling to Mumbai from the eastern city of Patna, was also hit by the 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," Mr 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.

"Rescue operations are in full swing. Things are under control and most of the people have been rescued," Mr Saxena told the NDTV network.

But rescuers said operations were being hampered by flooding in the area and officers were working 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," Mr 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 said on Twitter.

PTI reported that the river below the bridge crossing had been swollen and there had been water on the tracks.

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 US$137 billion (S$189 billion) to modernise its crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.