India: Scores dead as train plows into revelers at religious festival | News | DW | 20.10.2018
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India: Scores dead as train plows into revelers at religious festival

A speeding train has run over a crowd of revelers celebrating the Hindu Dussehra festival in the Indian state of Punjab. Some 60 people died in the accident, making it India's worst train disaster this year.

A speeding passenger train struck a crowd celebrating the Hindu Dussehra festival in the Indian city of Amritsar in Punjab state on Friday, killing some 60 people and injuring scores more.

The large crowd had gathered to watch the ceremonial burning of an effigy near the railway tracks when the train struck. According to witnesses, the train failed to stop after the accident. Most of the victims died instantly, while limbs lay scattered around the site.

According to local news agencies, another 50 people were rushed to various hospitals for treatment.

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Aging rail network of India

Regional railways chief Vishweshwar Chaubey said many people were standing on the tracks to see the burning of an effigy of the demon king Ravana. Those who were crushed could not hear the train approaching because of the loud firecrackers, he added. 

Speaking to a local TV channel, one eyewitness described scenes of "utter commotion" as some people in the crowd noticed a train "coming very fast" towards them. "Everyone was running helter-skelter and suddenly the train crashed into the crowds of people," he said.

A former state government official said most of the victims were migrant workers who had left their families in neighboring
states to work in local factories and shops.

The city of Amritsar is located around 465 kilometers (290 miles) to the north of the capital, New Delhi.

A speeding train ran over a crowd watching fireworks during a religious festival in northern India on Friday, killing at least 50 people. (picture-alliance/AP/P. Gill)

The body of a victim of Friday's deadly train accident lies on the railway covered in a cloth.

Who bears responsibility?

The accident raises questions of negligence on behalf of the rail operator and the administration as to why the festival was held so close to the rail line and why no barriers had been put up to stop people from getting onto the track. Immediately after the accident, people rushed to the site and shouted at officials for not taking precautions.

Navjot Kaur Siddhu, a local Congress party politician who was the chief guest at the festival, said the celebrations take place in the same area every year and that the railways are warned to run trains at slow speeds.

Siddhu, however, had arrived late, delaying the ceremony for several hours so it coincided with the train's arrival time.

The junior minister for railways, Manoj Sinha, insisted after visiting the scene of the accident that organizers had not alerted authorities about their plan to hold the religious festivity there.

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India to invest billions in infrastructure

Officials promise compensation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to say he was extremely saddened by the "heart-wrenching tragedy" and urged officials to provide immediate assistance to the injured and the victims' families.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he had ordered an investigation into who was responsible for the accident. He also announced that each of the victims' families would receive monetary compensation of 500,000 rupees ($6,800, €5,900).

India's sprawling rail network is the fourth-largest in the world and is the primary means of travel across the vast country. However, the service remains poorly funded and accidents are relatively common.

In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off the tracks in eastern India.

A government report in 2012 described the loss of 15,000 lives to train accidents each year in India as a "massacre." 

Modi's government has pledged to invest some $137 billion over five years to modernize the country's run-down rail network.

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dm/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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