Survivors desperately search damaged carriages for relatives after 14 coaches rolled off track near Kanpur
Rescue officials assess the damage to one of the 14 carriages that derailed on
the Indore-Patna express route. Photograph: Prabhat/Pacific/ Barcroft Images
More than 100 people have been killed after 14 coaches of a passenger train rolled off the track in northern India on Sunday, according to police.
About 150 more were injured in the derailment, which occurred at around 3am near Purwa, a village near the industrial city of Kanpur, as the express train travelled between the north-eastern city of Patna and the central city of Indore.
Some coaches crumpled as they crashed into others, trapping hundreds of people inside. It is one of India’s worst rail disasters in years.
“The death toll has topped 100 now,” Daljit Singh Chawdhary, the additional police director general, said.
Amid scenes of desperation and anguish, survivors were looking for family members and some were also trying to enter the damaged carriages to rescue relatives and collect belongings.
“We are using every tactic to save lives but it’s very difficult to cut the metal carriages,” said senior railway official Pratap Rai at the accident site.
The derailment could become India’s worst rail tragedy since 2005, when a train was crushed by a rock and another plunged into a river. More than 100 people were killed in each incident.
The country’s creaking railway system is the world’s fourth largest, ferrying more than 20 million people each day, but it has a poor safety record, with thousands of people dying in accidents every year, including in frequent train derailments.
Suresh Prabhu, India’s railways minister, said the government would immediately investigate the causes of the derailment and promised accountability with the “strictest possible action” and compensation for the affected passengers.
Authorities were checking if the air brakes that would have prevented the disaster had failed, but added they would need to look further before concluding the cause of the accident.
The crowded train, operated by the Indian government, derailed in the early hours of Sunday when more than 500 passengers were sleeping, survivors said.
TV footage showed badly mangled blue carriages, and crowds of people and police on top of the wreckage searching for survivors. One carriage was almost lying on its side, and appeared to have been completely torn apart.
Rescue officials with yellow helmets were working their way through the crowds, carrying victims from the wreckage as teams struggled to remove the derailed wagons from the tracks, a main transport artery in northern India.
“Suddenly I could feel that the carriage was overturning. I immediately held the metal rod near the bathroom door,” said Faizal Khan who was travelling with his wife and two children, all of whom survived the accident.
Another survivor, Rajdeep Tanwar said. “I can see bodies lying near the tracks, everyone is in a state of shock. There is no water or food for us.”
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, has promised to modernise India’s railways and build high-speed engines befitting Asia’s third-largest economy.
Modi offered his condolences on Sunday:
Narendra Modi ✔ @narendramodi
Anguished beyond words on the loss of lives due to the derailing of the Patna-Indore express. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. Prayers with those injured in the tragic train accident. I've spoken to @sureshpprabhu, who is personally monitoring the situation closely.
Suresh Prabhu ✔ @sureshpprabhu
Rail Accident relief ,all rescue and relief staff are working on the accident spot. Injured rushed to hospitals, instructed best medical help.
By some estimates, the railways need 20tn rupees ($293bn) of investment by 2020, and India is turning to partnerships with private companies and seeking loans from other countries to modernise its network. Last year, Japan agreed to provide $12bn of loans to build India’s first high-speed train.
Train accidents are common in India, with most occurring due to human error or ageing equipment. 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”.
Modi’s government has pledged to invest $137bn over five years to modernise the railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.