The shock after the train disaster in India is great. Even if the government has recently invested a lot in the railways, a debate about railway safety in the most populous country in the world is now coming up again.
At least 280 people have died in India in one of the worst train accidents in recent decades. Hundreds were injured, Odisha state authorities said. The death toll could still rise. According to the authorities, three trains were involved in the accident, which occurred in a rural area in the Balasore district, a good 200 kilometers southwest of Kolkata, on Friday around 7 p.m. local time.
TV pictures the day after show the extent of the rescue work, which initially took place at night. Train wagons lie all over the place on and next to the rails. Dozens of helpers in civilian clothes and rescue workers in orange protective suits are trying desperately to rescue the injured from the heavy rubble.
Blood donations – the solidarity is great
The local people tell of cruel experiences. “Bodies everywhere, many missing body parts, people stuck in the wagons screaming for help,” a survivor told The Hindu newspaper. “I saw people with mutilated body parts and disfigured faces. It will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
According to local media reports, a passenger train is said to have derailed first, and another passenger train is said to have crashed into its broken-down wagons. A freight train is said to have been involved. How exactly all this happened was not clear on Saturday either.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told ANI news agency he had ordered an investigation into the cause of the disaster.
The solidarity after the accident is great. Many people donated blood for the injured in hospitals on the night of the accident. “I hope this saves some lives,” a donor told ANI news agency. Odisha’s chief administrator, Pradeep Kumar Jena, said he had received many inquiries from people interested in donating blood.
Condolences from all over the world
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the scene of the accident on Saturday and injured people in a hospital. There he said, according to local media such as the “Hindustan Times”: “Those responsible will be severely punished.” Accordingly, instructions were given to consider “every angle” during the investigation. Shortly after the accident, his office had announced compensation for the relatives of the dead of 200,000 rupees (about 2,300 euros) each, as is usual in India with infrastructure-related accidents. The injured are said to receive around 50,000 rupees.
Politicians and heads of state expressed their condolences around the world, including the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which was hit by the Russian war of aggression. He tweeted to Modi and the victims’ families: “We share your pain of loss.”
In a telegram released by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote: “We share the grief of those who lost loved ones in this catastrophe and hope that all those injured will soon recover.”
Pope Francis assured “his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this tragedy”. His thoughts are with the grieving relatives and the injured. He asked for the “divine gifts of courage and bravery” for the rescue workers.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on Twitter: “The train accident in India with hundreds of dead and injured shocks me deeply. My thoughts are with the victims, the injured and their families. Germany stands by India at this difficult time.” Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also expressed his condolences. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted to Modi: “Europe mourns with you”.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose family is of Indian origin, tweeted that his thoughts and prayers are with Modi and everyone affected. “My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died, and heartfelt support and admiration for the survivors and those who work tirelessly to help.”
Abandoned rail network
In India itself, the accident has sparked a discussion about the safety of the railway – after the country has invested heavily in the railway after serious accidents in the past and the situation seems to have improved recently.
The most populous country with around 1.4 billion people has a large, historically grown railway network. With many old trains and track systems in need of overhaul, accidents are common. But such high numbers of victims have become rarer.
Among the worst train accidents in recent decades, killing over 100 people, were several in India, including the Kanpur 2016, Valigonda 2005, Rafiganj 2002, Gaisal 1999 and Khanna 1998 accidents. In Pakistan, in July 2005, 137 people died when three long-distance trains collided in Sarhad , in Japan in April 2005 in the Amagasaki 107 train accident, because the engine driver had not kept to the prescribed 70 kilometers per hour in a curve.
One of the worst accidents in rail traffic is the accident in Eschede in Lower Saxony, which killed 101 people – there, exactly 25 years ago, on June 3, 1998, several ICE carriages crashed into a road bridge at a speed of 200 km/h after a wheel tire broke.
The Seenigama disaster in Sri Lanka is considered the greatest rail disaster in history, where on December 26, 2004 the tsunami wave hit a full express train and killed around 1,800 people.