Two passenger trains derailed off a bridge and into a river in central India late Tuesday night, leaving scores injured and possibly at least 24 dead, according to Indian authorities.
Shortly before midnight local time, a number of coaches of the Kamayani Express, en route from Mumbai to Varanasi, separated from the tracks and fell into the Machak River, near the town of Harda in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Minutes later, the Janata Express, heading in the opposite direction, derailed at the same location.
NDTV, an Indian broadcasting network, reports that railway officials are blaming the recent heavy rains of the monsoon season, which may have caused the track to cave in. Some officials have speculated that high river levels — possibly caused by a nearby dam burst — washed onto the tracks, though this has not yet been confirmed.
Hundreds of passengers have thus far been rescued, but Kiren Rijiju, India’s Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, tells the Times of India that the number of casualties is “likely to be high.” By mid-afternoon, dozens of passengers remained unaccounted for. Adverse weather conditions had prevented the full rescue operation from arriving at the scene of the accident until dawn.
Meanwhile, the accident has diverted or canceled a number of trains, many out of Mumbai.
This is not the first fatal train incident in the country this year. A number of public figures have spoken out against what they deem the unsatisfactory safety conditions of India’s railway system, one of the most heavily trafficked in the world.
“I don’t consider it as an accident,” Dinesh Trivedi, who served as the country’s Minister of Railways between July 2011 and March 2012, said, according to Asian News International. “Accident [sic] is something which can’t be avoided. This could’ve been avoided.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pushed for the rejuvenation of the country’s railways, tweeted his sympathies on Wednesday morning.