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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 17:49 GMT
Trains collide in northern India
Rescue workers at crash site
The rescue operation is running smoothly
At least 27 people have been killed and 47 injured in a collision between two passenger trains in the northern Indian state of Punjab, officials say.

Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav has gone to the crash site, between the towns of Pathankot and Jalandhar.

Over 450 emergency workers have been taking part in rescue efforts - some bodies are still thought to be missing.

India's railways carries 13 million people daily over more than 100,000 kilometres of track but safety is poor.

Many trapped

The accident took place in a remote area when the two trains, both travelling on the same track, slammed head on into each other at Mukerian village.

The railways minister said that the collision involved the Jammu Tawi-Ahmedabad Express and a local train.

Local resident Shyam Babbar told the Reuters news agency: "There was chaos, people were screaming. Someone had broken a leg, others were lying near the derailed coaches with blood running down their heads.

"I saw smashed bodies in the damaged coaches. There was a woman and a small child next to her. Both were dead," he said.

Clothes and luggage were strewn around the site.

Distraught passengers

Some estimates said the death toll was higher than 27.

A senior railway official, DK Das, said the number of dead had risen to 36 and that some bodies could still be trapped in the mangled carriages.

Rescuers sift through the wreckage
The accident happened in a remote area

The BBC's Asit Jolly at the crash site said that by late afternoon the rescue operation was running smoothly in contrast to the chaos immediately after the collision, when distraught passengers searched for loved ones in the mangled wreckage.

At least five coaches were badly damaged, the force of the collision up-ending some of them into a vertical position, pointing towards the sky.

Our correspondent says that the cause of the crash is not yet known, but human error and a communication breakdown are thought to have been factors.

Railway staff at the two stations on either side of the crash have been suspended pending the outcome of a government enquiry.

Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav has announced compensation of around $2,600 (115,000 Indian Rupees) to relatives of the dead and a smaller sum to those who were injured.

India rail disasters
June 2004: Derailment, near Bombay, Maharashtra - 14 killed
July 2003: Rail bridge crash, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh - 22 killed
September 2002: Derailment, Aurangabad, Bihar - 100 dead
August 1999: Collision, Gaisal, West Bengal - 286 dead
November 1998: Collision, Khanna, Punjab - 200 dead

All those hurt have now been removed from the crash site to hospital, but a makeshift medical centre remains in case rescue workers are injured.

Relatives of those travelling in the trains have rushed to the stations to try to get information on the fate of their loved ones. A large crowd has now gathered at the crash site.

In the western city of Ahmedabad - the destination for the express - anxious relatives crowded around railway counters. Many of the passengers were Hindu pilgrims and many were soldiers.

"They are not even telling us which compartments got damaged in the accident and only saying that information from Punjab would come at any moment," the Associated Press quoted Bipul Shah as saying.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Latest pictures from the crash site



SEE ALSO:
Death on Bombay's lifeline
04 Mar 04 |  South Asia
India's antiquated railways
14 Dec 04 |  South Asia


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