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India hunts for rail officers after crash kills 38
Updated: 2004-12-15 21:16

Indian police were looking for two railway stationmasters blamed for a head-on collision between two passenger trains which killed at least 38 people and injured dozens, officials said on Wednesday.

State-run railways pinned the blame for Tuesday's tragedy squarely on two of its own, who it said were guilty of negligence for failing to prevent the crash of the express train with a local in the northern state of Punjab.

"The cause of the accident, prima facie, appears to be human failure," junior railway minister R.Velu told members of parliament incensed over the spate of accidents on one of the world's largest rail networks.

"These two station masters are totally responsible, they did not follow basic rules of railway traffic control under which only one train should be allowed to pass at a time," the area railway manager, Dharam Singh, told Reuters.

"Either they had gone mad or there was clear intention to sabotage," he said and added the two men had gone missing since the accident.

Opposition politicians demanded the resignation of the railways minister and newspapers blamed successive governments for allowing the rail network to crumble into disrepair.

"When there was an accident during our government, the railway minister had offered to resign. Where is the railway minister now?" former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked in the lower house of parliament amid noisy protests.

"Shame, shame," members of parliament from Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party shouted before trooping out of the chamber in protest. Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav was not in parliament at the time.

A railway spokesman told Reuters that the death toll from the accident in Punjab had risen to 38, and 53 people were in hospital with injuries.

On Wednesday, another inter-state train ran into a jeep at a railway crossing in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, killing five people traveling in the car, an official said.


The small hospital in Mukerian, the nearest town in the rural stretch of Punjab where the trains crashed, was swarming with grieving relatives of the dead and the injured.

Twelve-year-old Baldeep, who lost both parents and two sisters in the accident, lay in a bed unable to comprehend the scale of the tragedy.

"Where is my mother? Please call her," he kept asking a nurse.

Severely bandaged Harjinder Singh, the driver of the express train, was brought to a private hospital in Ludhiana, the largest city in the area.

"I saw the train coming and tried to halt, but the oncoming train hit me with full impact," he said.

The driver of the other train died in the crash.

The Indian rail network operates nearly 14,000 trains a day, carrying more than 13 million passengers, but has about 300 accidents a year.

The rail system is saddled with huge losses because of its rock-bottom fares and a bloated workforce, leaving little for investment in infrastructure and safety

"An accident waiting to happen," the Indian Express said, adding its investigations showed that one reason for the train crash in Punjab was colonial-era signaling equipment that had broken down a day before the accident.

The Express said it found a "crumbling communication network and virtually non-existent infrastructure" in the area of the crash.

"Killing laxity," read a headline in The Hindustan Times.

"There has always been talk of upgradation in terms of tracks, communication, but it has happened only in certain sections," said political commentator T.R.Ramachandran on state-run Doordarshan television. "Human life is precious, but it's not taken seriously here."

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