Train runs over pilgrims in eastern India, killing 37

PATNA— A train ran over a group of Hindu pilgrims at a crowded station in eastern India early Monday, killing at least 37 people. A mob infuriated by the deaths beat the driver severely and set fire to coaches, officials said.

Several hours after the accident, flames and dark smoke could be seen billowing out of the train coaches, as protesters blocked firefighters from the station in Dhamara Ghat, a small town in Bihar state, officials said.

Dinesh Chandra Yadav, a local member of parliament, said the pilgrims were crossing the tracks in the packed, chaotic station when they were struck by the Rajya Rani Express train. Several other people were injured.

S.K. Bhardwaj, a police officer in Bihar, said 37 people were killed.

Railway official Arunendra Kumar said the train was not supposed to halt at Dhamara Ghat and had been given clearance to pass through the station. However, some pilgrims waited on the tracks thinking they could stop the train, he said.

The train stopped a few hundred meters (yards) beyond the spot where it hit the pilgrims. Angry mobs then pulled out the train driver and beat him. Yadav said the driver died, but Kumar said the driver was in hospital in critical condition.

The mob then got all the passengers out of the train and set some coaches on fire. Groups of young men also smashed the windows of two other trains that were in the station.

A crowd of around 5,000 people gathered near Dhamara Ghat station and were chasing away the district officials who tried to remove the bodies from the tracks. The crowds blocked the railway tracks and the few policemen posted at the station had fled, state officials said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm in the area so that relief and rescue operations could be carried out, a statement from his office said.

Junior railway minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the mob set fire to at least two coaches of the train, and protesters were preventing firefighters from reaching the accident site.