PATNA, India (AFP) - A passenger train derailed in eastern India on Wednesday, killing four people, after a suspected explosion on the tracks during a protest called by Maoist insurgents, officials said.
Some 12 carriages of the Rajdhani Express, which was travelling from the capital New Delhi to the northeastern state of Assam, toppled over at around 2am (4-30am Singapore time) in Bihar state’s Saran district.
Eight other passengers were taken to hospital for treatment for their injuries.
One of the casualties, Mr Ram Pratap Singh, described how passengers in sleeper carriages were awoken by a “loud noise”.
“The carriage tipped over and over again and a passenger on a top (berth) fell on me,” Mr Singh told the ABP network.
“Then we got up somehow and found a small opening to get out,” he told the channel.
Stranded passengers were being ferried in special trains while railway workers were trying to fix the long stretch of broken tracks.
“Prima facie, it appears to be a case of sabotage,” Railway Board chairman Arunendra Kumar told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. “There was a blast on the track, which could have caused the derailment.”
The chief spokesman of railways Anil Kumar Saxena said an expert team had rushed to the site to gather evidence.
“One of the possibilities could be sabotage by the Maoists,” he told AFP.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it was “too early” to blame the insurgents, according to PTI, while a senior police officer said that a “technical fault” could have been to blame.
But Maoist rebels had earlier called for a day-long strike in the area to protest against the security forces, and police said they had recovered three crude explosive devices that had been planted in a marketplace in a nearby town.
If confirmed as a Maoist attack, it would be the first by the insurgents since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party came to power last month after a landslide election victory.
Separatist insurgencies affect large swathes of India’s north-east, north-west and central regions, including the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
Many of the rebels say they are fighting authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups. The Maoist insurgency has cost thousands of lives.
Wednesday's derailment is the latest deadly incident on India’s dilapidated rail network, which is still the main form of long-distance travel for the middle-class and the poor.
Last month, 26 people were killed when a passenger express travelling in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh ploughed into a stationary freight train.
In 2012 a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on the network, describing the deaths as an annual “massacre” due mainly to poor safety standards.
Mr Modi’s government has pledged to revive the railway network by infusing funds and introducing new, modern trains.