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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Indian train crash toll reaches 100
Indian train carriage after derailment
Both sabotage and recent weather have been blamed
Indian officials say rescue workers at the site of Tuesday's train crash in the eastern state of Bihar have recovered at least 100 bodies, a day after a luxury Delhi-bound passenger train derailed on a bridge.

It lasted a couple of minutes - when it was over, I realised my wife and children had been crushed to death

Passenger Mohammed Irshad

Officials say 550 people were on board the Rajdhani Express when the train, which had started from Calcutta, jumped the tracks while travelling at around 130 km/h (80mph).

They say nearly 250 injured are now in various hospitals receiving treatment.

Coaches piled on top of each other and at least one was sent plunging 90 metres from a bridge into the River Dhavi as the train crashed near Rafiganj station, about 510 kilometres (315 miles) from Calcutta.

Trapped survivors were left screaming for help as rescuers struggled to reach them in the twisted wreckage.

Sabotage suspected

One passenger, Mohammed Irshad, said: "We were all asleep and suddenly the whole thing went zigzag and everything started to fall on top of me.

"It lasted a couple of minutes. When it was over, I realised my wife and children had been crushed to death." His children were two and three years old.

Rescuers amid the wreckage
There are reports that the track was vandalised

Railways Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said he was convinced the incident was a case of foul play, as iron girders and rails on the bridge had been removed.

The chairman of the Indian Railway Board, IISM Rana, agreed after visiting the scene.

"Prima facie case, as studied by the railways, is sabotage. It has been done in a planned way," he said without elaborating.

However, other officials cautioned that it was too soon to draw conclusions and an inquiry has been launched.

Guerrilla stronghold

Bihar's remote Gaya district, where the incident took place, is a stronghold of Maoist guerrillas who have been waging an armed campaign for more than two decades, demanding rights for landless labourers and low-caste Indians.

But a police spokesman there said the guerrillas do not normally target passenger trains, and usually warn authorities when they do attack rail tracks in order to avoid casualties.

"This does not appear to be a case of sabotage," said Neelmani, the local inspector-general of police operations, according to the Press Trust of India.

"The railway authorities have jumped to a conclusion without even caring to verify the ground realities."

India's Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, also told reporters in Delhi that the crash looked to be an accident rather than a deliberate attack.

Carriages suspended

Recent heavy rains had battered the bridge and swollen the river, where currents were strong, police said.

Rescue workers told the BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta that dozens of bodies were being removed from the massive wreckage and that Hindu funeral rites - including the lighting of cremation fires - had begun.

More than 300 survivors have been sent to Delhi and Calcutta in special trains.

Indian train disasters
Aug 1999: 285 die when two trains collide north of Calcutta
Nov 1998: 201 die when trains collide in Punjab
Aug 1995: 350 die when two trains collide 200 km from Delhi
April 1990: 100 die when a train catches fire in Bihar

The Rajdhani, which links Calcutta with Delhi, is a fully air-conditioned luxury train and has had relatively few accidents.

Almost 14,000 trains run through India every day carrying more than 13 million passengers. On average, there are 300 accidents a year.

Overcrowding, lack of investment - especially in new technology - and the difficulties of supervising a vast workforce are all cited as chronic underlying problems.

The BBC's Daniel Lak
"An official inquiry has been set-up"
The BBC's Subir Bhaumik reports from Calcutta
"The Bihar government is saying the bridge actually collapsed because of lack of maintenance"
See also:

10 Sep 02 | South Asia
10 Sep 02 | South Asia
02 Dec 00 | South Asia
04 Jun 02 | South Asia
13 May 02 | South Asia
07 Aug 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
02 May 02 | Country profiles
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