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India: Express Train Kills Dozens Of Pilgrims
A speeding train ploughed through a red signal and hit a group of pilgrims crossing the tracks, killing at least 35, Indian authorities have said.
The Hindu pilgrims had been returning from morning prayers on Monday at the end of a month of prayer ceremonies at the Katyaynani temple near Dhamara Ghat, a popular Hindu pilgrimage site.
The deaths sparked riots and a 5,000-strong crowd gathered around the scene of the accident in the Saharsa district in the state of Bihar. People pulled the driver from the stricken train and badly beat him before ransacking the nearby Dhamara Ghat station.
They then helped the remaining passengers from the carriages before setting some of them on fire, according to the local chief Arun Malik.
Mr Malik said: "Six carriages have been set on fire and the station has been ransacked by the mob. Our staff have fled the station fearing attacks."
Kumar Ashutosh, a passenger on the train, said that within a few seconds of hitting people on the track, the driver slammed on the emergency brakes and the train ground to a halt.
He said: "Soon, groups of people began running toward the engine. They asked us to get down from the train. Some of them pulled out the driver and his assistant and began beating them."
District magistrate Syed Pervez Alam said the dismembered bodies of passengers who had been killed were lying on the track. The angry mob has chased away policemen and officials who tried to reach the station.
"I had woken up and was sitting near the window, when all this happened. There were crowds of people on the platform and some on the track. It all happened so fast," he said.
Railways spokesman Amitabh Prabhakar said that the pilgrims were killed "by an express train while they were crossing the tracks despite the red signal".
PN Raid, a Bihar Railway official said that 35 people had been killed in the accident.
However, the chairman of the national railway board, Arunendra Kumar, who is based in New Delhi, said that the Rajya Rani Express had been given permission to pass.
He said: "The accident occurred because some people left the platform of the station and came on the tracks."
India has the largest railway network in the world but has a poor safety record.
Figures released by the railways minister in 2011 show that between January 2007 and September 2011 some 2,000 died in 738 accident.
Deaths at the country's 50,000 crossings were significantly greater with 2012 government figures showing 15,000 people were killed every year.
There have been continued promises from the government to improve the safety records of India's overcrowded and often unsafe trains.