NEW DELHI (AFP, REUTERS) - Emergency crews searched mangled carriages on Sunday (Aug 20) for any further victims after a train crash in northern India killed 23 passengers, the fourth major accident this year on the crumbling network.
Another 156 people were injured when 14 carriages came off the tracks in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh state, 130 km from New Delhi, on Saturday evening.
The coaches were left in a mangled heap after the express train derailed at 100 km per hour, crashing into nearby houses and a college.
The cause of the accident was not known and the driver of the train would be one of the first people to be questioned, Northern Railways spokesman Neeraj SharmaSharma said.
He said the death toll could rise.
A member of the railway board told reporters there was information that suggested the derailment happened because of some repair work on the track.
“If it is found that work was going on without adequate precaution and if there was any failure on the part of railway staff then appropriate action will be taken,” said the board member, Muhammad Jamshed.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said the board had been directed to “fix responsibility” by end of the day. “Will not allow laxity in operations,” Prabhu said in a post on Twitter.
Will not allow laxity in operations by the Board. Have directed CRB to fix responsibility on prima facie evidence by end of day.
— Suresh Prabhu (@sureshpprabhu) August 20, 2017
Criminal investigators were also probing whether sabotage was involved.
Rescuers used gas-powered saws on Sunday to prise apart the tangled metal and search the wreckage with sniffer dogs.
"We are checking the coaches thoroughly for any survivors or bodies. We will clear the tracks today," Anant Dev, Muzaffarnagar district police chief, told AFP.
A large crowd descended on the accident site to help free passengers from the damaged carriages, many of which were upended and torn open.
Some of the injured were seriously hurt but many had been released from hospital after receiving treatment, Dev added.
The Utkal-Kalinga express left Puri, a temple city in India's coastal east, on Thursday evening and was scheduled to arrive in the northern Hindu holy city of Haridwar on Sunday.
India's railway network is the world's fourth largest and remains the main form of travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents often occur.
Experts blame under-investment and poor safety standards for the frequency of rail accidents.
This latest derailment is the fourth major crash this year, and follows another accident in Uttar Pradesh last November that left 146 dead.
In January nearly 40 people were killed when a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andra Pradesh.
A 2012 government report described the loss of 15,000 passengers to rail accidents every year in India as a "massacre".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged US$137 billion over five years to modernise the crumbling railways and his government has signed numerous upgrading deals with private companies.
Japan has agreed to provide US$12 billion in soft loans to build India's first bullet train, with Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tipped to break ground on the project in September.