- The Washington Times - Monday, July 19, 2010

CALCUTTA | A speeding passenger train crashed into another waiting on a platform in a West Bengal station early Monday, killing 61 people and injuring at least 125 others in one of the world’s largest - and most accident-prone - railway systems.

The accident occurred about 2 a.m., when the Uttar Banga Express, which was bound for Calcutta, plowed into the Vananchal Express at Sainthia station, about 125 miles north of Calcutta.

The Vananchal Express, which was bound for Ranchi, was about to leave the station when the accident occurred, railway officials said.

The accident occurred about two months after 145 people were killed when a passenger train derailed and was slammed by a cargo train. That crash was blamed on Maoist rebels, who had been targeting the railway.

India’s railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, rushed to the scene of the accident and said there will be a “hgh-level inquiry into the incident.” Ms. Banerjee has been criticized by opposition leaders for being more focused on ousting communists from West Bengal state than managing the Railway Ministry.

At the railway station, workers and rescuers pulled mangled bodies from the twisted debris of the trains. The impact of Uttar Banga Express caused two rear cars of the stationary Vanachal Express to fly into the air and hit an overpass.

“Our first rescue train reached at 3:30 a.m. to the spot. Our top officials rushed to the scene,” Samir Goswami, an Indian Railway spokesman in Calcutta, told The Washington Times.

An outcry arose at the crash site that the rescue operation had started too late.

The Indian army assisted in the rescue operation, andwelding torches were used to cut through the metal heaps to help rescuers extricate injured survivors and remove bodies trapped inside.

Ms. Banerjee announced that the Railway Ministry would pay the equivalent of $10,614 to the families of each of the passengers who died in the accident and $2,122 to the survivors.

Though she did not blame the accident on sabotage or terrorism, she said the accident was unusual.

“This is not a casual thing. Let us find out the details,” Ms. Banerjee said. “Human life is lost. Necessary action is being taken.”

Railway officials said human error was the apparent cause of the accident.

Accidents on India’s rail system are not uncommon, with most blamed on faulty maintenance, poor infrastructure and human error.

With a track network of 39,350 miles, the railway is India’s transportation lifeline. It is one of the world’s largest rail systems, transporting 20 million people and more than 2 million tons of freight each day.