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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Sri Lanka rail crash 'kills 35'
Bus crash site in Sri Lanka
The bus was dragged 500 metres down the track
A passenger train has slammed into a packed bus on a closed level crossing in Sri Lanka, leaving 35 people dead and 33 injured, hospital sources said.

The crash happened near the town of Polgahawela, 80km (50 miles) north-east of Colombo.

Efforts to pull survivors from the bus were hampered by a blaze which broke out on impact. Nobody aboard the train is believed to have been hurt.

The bus driver and conductor, who were both hurt, have been arrested.

It was alleged the driver went on to the tracks via the closed level crossing.

After the first impact, the bus spun around and hit the train again
Train driver HA Sirisena

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said she was shocked and saddened over the tragedy.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, who visited the scene, told BBC Sinhala service correspondent Elmo Fernando he would be recommending tough measures to discipline private bus drivers who broke the rules.

The crash happened at 0830 (0230 GMT) on the main line between the capital and the central hill city of Kandy.

The train was travelling from Colombo to Kandy and the bus from Dambulla, north of Kandy, to the capital.

Worst crash

The driver of the train, HA Sirisena, told Reuters: "The signal was green and the level-crossing gates were closed.

"Then I saw the bus trying to cross... and the next thing I know was the engine hitting the rear of the bus."

"After the first impact, the bus spun around and hit the train again. I have been in this job for 41 years and this is the first time something like this has happened."

The bus was dragged about 500 metres down the track, police said.

One bus passenger, Priyalatha Imbulgoda, said: "I was sitting at the very back of the bus. I saw flames coming from the front. There was little time to do anything.

"Some neighbours from my village were sitting next to me, I don't know what happened to them."

An investigation has started but initial reports blame the bus driver for ignoring signals.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Sri Lanka says bus companies are privatised and often race each other to each stop. Bus accidents are a major problem.

According to Sri Lanka Railways, the bus was carrying 99 passengers.

Injured passengers were ferried to three hospitals while the dead were collected at the hospital in Kurunegala.

Relatives wailed as they checked pictures of the dead on the morgue wall.

During December's tsunami, Sri Lanka suffered what is thought to be the world's worst rail disaster.

The waves struck the Queen of the Sea service at Telwatta, 110km (75 miles) south of Colombo. About 800 bodies were identified but it is feared more than twice that number died.

Some people are blaming the driver for the crash

In pictures: Sri Lanka crash
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21 Feb 05 |  South Asia
Sri Lanka train crash kills13
18 Aug 01 |  South Asia
Country profile: Sri Lanka
10 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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