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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Rail crash due to 'natural cause'
The crashed Matsyagandha Express train
Rains and hilly terrain hindered rescue operations at the site
The Indian Railways Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, has said that Wednesday's train derailment which killed at least 14 people was a natural disaster.

Mr Yadav earlier said after that any official found guilty of negligence would be punished.

But he now says that the crash happened because of a landslide caused by the wet weather of the monsoon.

The passenger train came off the tracks as it crossed a river near the Konkan coast in western Maharashtra.

'Early warnings'

"There is no official who is responsible for this tragedy, it is a natural calamity," Mr Yadav said.

"I have seen the site of the accident, and there was a landslide in which earth and boulders covered the tracks. The driver was forced to break hard."

Map showing location of Maharashtra state and Mangalore

My Yadav said that an investigation into the accident would still be carried out by the commissioner of railway safety.

He said that said that throughout the monsoon a pilot engine will run in front of every passenger train on the Konkan Railway to provide clearance and early warnings of possible landslides.

Correspondents say that questions are bound to be asked as to why simple procedures like meshing the hillsides were not carried out.

Passengers trapped

Meanwhile the authorities in Maharashtra say the track has now been cleared, although normal services are yet to be restored. It was the second major crash on the Konkan railway track in the last 12 months.

Wednesday's crash happened on the route between Mangalore to Bombay.

The first 11 coaches went off the rails, and local people helped passengers trapped in carriages. Around 115 people were injured, some seriously.

Officials said the rains and hilly terrain hindered rescue operations at the site, because the only approach is through a winding road over the hills

Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav
Mr Yadav promised compensation for the victims' families

Mr Yadav said compensation of 100,000 rupees ($2,200) for each family of the deceased would be paid.

Fifty-one people died in a similar incident on the line last year.

The Konkan route, said to be one of India's most scenic, was built in 1998.

It is of one of Asia's longest new railway line projects.

The 760km railway links Bombay with Mangalore, which lies on the border of Karnataka and Kerala.

The Konkan has had plenty of problems: it was completed three years late, and cost 34bn rupees - three times more than the projected cost.

It has about 2,000 bridges and 92 tunnels.

India's railway network is among the world's largest, carrying more than 13 million passengers a day.

But it has a poor safety record, with around 300 accidents a year.

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