NEW DELHI — A train killed at least 37 religious pilgrims as they crossed a railroad track in eastern India on Monday morning, prompting an angry mob to set fire to the train and attack its conductor, local officials said.
The accident took place at a station that is inaccessible by road, forcing rescue workers to walk more than two miles to reach the site, a regional police spokesman told Indian television. Villagers began pelting the train with stones, and a passenger, reached by telephone, said he had seen a mob beating the train’s driver. The police were unable to confirm reports that the driver had been killed.
“It was all quite frightening,” said Rohit Kumar, a passenger aboard the train, in an interview. “I’m standing here and watching smoke billowing out from the train.”
The police could not confirm the death toll by midday on Monday, about three hours after the accident, saying many bodies had been dismembered.
S.K. Singh, the deputy magistrate of the Saharsa District, said 37 people were confirmed dead. That toll was expected to rise, however, and scores were said to be injured.
Monday is the last day of a holy month here, and many people were exiting at the station as they traveled to a temple a half-mile away to offer holy water from the river Ganges to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Two passenger trains were stopped at the station when the train barreled through on the middle of the station’s three tracks.
A top official at the railway ministry, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said the conductor had not been warned that pilgrims would be gathering at the station, which is about 124 miles from the capital of Bihar state. He said the driver had tried to brake when he saw people on the tracks but was unable to stop the train, which plowed into the crowd.
The Rayja Rani Express, a relatively new service connecting large cities, travels at a speed of about 50 miles per hour and was not scheduled to stop at the station, Dhamara Ghat.
It was the latest in a series of disasters to befall pilgrims in India this year. In June, thousands of pilgrims drowned when flash floods struck the northern state of Uttarakhand, and the Indian authorities evacuated more than 100,000.
In February, dozens were killed in a train-station stampede at the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious festival on the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Amarnath Tewary from Patna.