Fifteen people were killed yesterday in a train accident in north India, an official said, amid a political row over a plan to raise fares to pay for a safety upgrade on the network.
A train traveling across Uttar Pradesh State crashed into an overloaded jeep carrying 19 people as it tried to pass an unmanned crossing in Mahamaya Nagar District, 296km from the state capital, Lucknow.
“The jeep was thrown 6m away,” a state home ministry official who declined to give his name said, adding that 15 passengers were killed instantly and four were critically injured.
The accident occurred at about 7:30am yesterday, he added.
Many rail crossings in India are unmanned and lack functioning signals, raising the risk of collisions for vehicle drivers attempting to cross.
The cash-strapped train system has a notoriously bad safety record, with a recent official report revealing that almost 15,000 people are killed every year crossing rail tracks — a figure that the government described as a “massacre.”
Last week, then-national rail minister Dinesh Trivedi pledged to make safety his top priority on the network and hiked fares for the first time in nearly a decade, earning criticism from the opposition and his own party.
Trivedi resigned on Sunday after being forced out by the head of his Trinamool Congress Party, a minority coalition partner in the government which called the fares hike “anti-poor.”
India’s rail network carries 18 million people daily and is still the main form of long-distance travel, despite fierce competition from private airlines.
The previous most recent major train accident occurred in July last year, when a packed express train traveling from Kolkata to New Delhi derailed at high speed in Uttar Pradesh, killing 69 people.
The nation’s worst rail accident was in 1981, when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.