New Delhi (dpa) – At least 47 people were killed after an old overbridge collapsed on a running train in India's eastern state of Bihar on Saturday, media reports said.
Witnesses said a portion of the 150-year-old bridge which was being dismantled fell on the train passing through the eastern Bhagalpur district killing 47 passengers, many of them instantaneously, the NDTV network reported.
Railway authorities said that as the train passed under the bridge, a portion of it gave way and came smashing down on a coach of the moving train.
The news channel said 40 people were injured in the accident in Bhagalpur which is located 110 kilometres east of state capital Patna.
But local authorities and police confirmed only 24 deaths. "Till now, there are 24 bodies lying in the Bhagalpur government hospital and at the railway station," an unnamed official was quoted by the IANS news agency as saying.
Emergency services reached the spot soon after the accident and were carrying out efforts to extricate the 16 passengers who remained trapped in the mangled coaches. Additional cranes and metal-cutting equipment was requisitioned for rescue work, officials said.
An Indian Railway spokesman confirmed the old bridge was being dismantled but asserted that no work had been going on at the time of the accident.
However, local TV channels reported that portions of the bridge had started crumbling since Thursday but the Railway officials had not stopped rail traffic on the route.
State authorities blamed Indian Railways for "sheer negligence" that resulted in the tragedy.
"It is a clear case of negligence by the Railways. The Railways are fully at fault," Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told reporters.
India's Railway Minister Lalu Yadav has ordered an inquiry into the accident and said a criminal case would be filed against the officials responsible for the accident.
Yadav also suspended two railway engineers who were supervising the dismantling of the bridge.
The Indian railway system is more than 150 years old and is in the process of upgrading its infrastructure, including colonial-era bridges, century-old rail tracks and signalling systems.
According to railway experts, India has more than 120,000 railway bridges, of which around 51,000 are more than 100 years old and were built during British rule. In the past few years, the Railways have embarked on a project to rebuild 3,000 old bridges.
Indian Railways, which runs one of the largest rail networks in the world, reports an average of 250 accidents each year, but insists its safety record is good given the number of trains it runs each day.
Every day some 8,520 trains carry more than 13 million passengers over 63,000 kilometres of railway track criss-crossing India.