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148 Bodies Found in Train Wreckage

November 27, 1998

KHANNA, India (AP) _ Giant cranes untangled mangled train cars today to retrieve more victims of a two-train crash, bringing the number of bodies recovered to 148. More remains were expected to be found.

Teams of doctors operated on survivors through the night, amputating legs and hands. Relatives of passengers aboard the two passenger trains began arriving in Khanna, 125 miles northwest of New Delhi, searching for their loved ones.

Officials said 260 people were injured, 30 critically, when the Calcutta-bound Sealdah Express crashed into the Frontier Mail, minutes after it had jumped the tracks before dawn Thursday. Most of the victims were asleep at the time of the accident.

Work speeded up after the arrival of a huge crane that could lift an entire train car. Some 5,000 workers supported the wobbly wreckage with planks of wood and steel beams. Others used acetylene torches or crowbars to dismantle the train cars.

``We’re hoping to clear the tracks tonight,″ Kapoor told reporters in this northern wheat-trading town.

Many of the passengers aboard the express train were pilgrims returning from a Hindu shrine in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir state. Among the dead were 40 soldiers going home for vacation.

Officials said a worker aboard the derailed Frontier Mail was unable to find a box of flares to warn other trains that the tracks were blocked. The man tried to use a trackside emergency telephone but its wires had been severed by the crash, they said.

Minutes after the accident, hundreds of farmers and residents of the area began the rescue work. They illumined the wreckage with headlights of cars or tractors and offered tea and blankets to passengers, many of whom were dressed in night clothes or had lost their belongings.

For Ram Pravesh the search for this father ended today. After endless visits to hospitals with local volunteers, he found the body of his father, Ram Nageena.

The 10-year-old boy fainted at the sight of the body on a block of ice at the local college playground that had been turned into a makeshift mortuary.

A total of 1,700 passengers were aboard both trains. In all, 16 cars were damaged in the accident, railroad official Ashok Kumar told reporters at the crash site.

There are about 300 accidents each year on India’s rail network, the largest under one management in the world. Most of the accidents have been blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

Newspaper editorials said today that safety measures were routinely ignored in the rush to expand the rail network, often to please voters. The government-owned railroad company added 500 trains in the past four years.

The mass-circulation Indian Express newspaper said a simple signal light on the engine and last coach of the train may have prevented the accident. The government has said it is strapped for funds.

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day.