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Train collision kills at least eight in eastern India, police say

At least eight people were killed and dozens of others injured after a cargo train collided with a passenger train in eastern India on Monday, according to authorities, as a top official ordered a major emergency response.

The Kanchenjunga Express, which runs between the city of Kolkata and Silchar in northeastern Assam state, was struck by a freight train south of the city of Siliguri, according to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Disaster teams have rushed to the crash location, which lies below the foothills that lead to Darjeeling, a popular mountain tourist destination famous for its tea plantations and stunning Himalayan views.

Local media pictures and video footage from the scene showed at least one train car on its side, parts of it crushed into a mass of twisted metal. Another car can be seen rising into the air at a steep angle above an engine carriage.

Banerjee, the local chief minister, wrote on X that “doctors, ambulances and disaster teams have been rushed to the site for rescue, recovery, medical assistance.”

“Action on war-footing initiated,” she added.

Live images from the site of the crash streamed live by local news channel TV 9 showed people gathered outside the carriages, some filming on their phones.

The crash comes more than a year after India experienced one of the worst train disasters in the country’s history, when more than 280 people were killed in a three-way collision involving two passenger trains and a freight train in eastern Odisha state.

That incident shocked the nation, renewing calls for authorities to confront safety issues in a railway system that transports more than 13 million passengers every day.

India’s extensive rail network, one of the largest in the world, was built more than 160 years ago under British colonial rule. Today, it runs about 11,000 trains every day over 67,000 miles of tracks in the world’s most populous nation.

But decaying infrastructure is often cited as a cause for traffic delays and numerous train accidents. Though government statistics show that accidents and derailments have been on the decline in recent years, they are still tragically common.

More than 16,000 people were killed in nearly 18,000 railway accidents across the country in 2021, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Most railway accidents were due to falls from trains and collisions between trains and people on the track. Train-on-train collisions are less common.

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the West Bengal crash “saddening” and sent a message of condolence to the affected families.

“I pray that the injured recover at the earliest. Spoke to officials and took stock of the situation. Rescue operations are underway to assist the affected,” Modi wrote on X.

Upgrading India’s transportation infrastructure is a key priority for Modi in his push to create a $5 trillion economy by 2025. His government last year raised capital spending on airports, road and highway construction and other infrastructure projects to $122 billion, or 1.7% of its GDP.

A significant portion of that spending is targeted at introducing more high-speed trains to India’s notoriously slow railways.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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