- The Washington Times - Monday, July 19, 2010

KOLKATA, India — Sixty-one people were killed Monday when a speeding train crashed into another waiting on a platform in a West Bengal station, barely two months after a derailment that claimed at least 145 lives was blamed on Maoist rebels.

The accident occurred about 2 a.m., when the Uttar Banga Express, which was bound for Kolkata, plowed into the Vananchal Express at Sainthia station, about 124 miles north of Kolkata.

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

India’s railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, rushed to the scene of the accident and said there will be a “high-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 Railways Ministry.

At the rail 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.

“At least 60 were killed and 85 wounded,” Samir Goswami, an Indian Railways spokesman in Kolkata, told The Washington Times.

“Our first rescue train reached at 3:30 a.m. to the spot. Our top officials rushed to the scene,” Mr. Goswami said amid an outcry that the rescue operation started too late.

The Indian army assisted in the rescue operation, and welding 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 Railways Ministry would pay $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.”

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

In May, at least 145 people were killed in a rail crash in West Bengal that was blamed on Maoist rebels who had been targeting the railroad.

With a track network of 39,350 miles, Indian Railways is the country’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.