The state-run railways pinned the blame for Tuesday's tragedy squarely on the two station masters, who it said were guilty of negligence for failing to prevent the crash of the express train with a local in the northern state of Punjab.

   

"The cause of the accident, prima facie, appears to be human failure," junior railway minister R Velu on Wednesday told members of parliament incensed over the spate of accidents on one of the world's largest rail networks.

   

The area railway manager, Dharam Singh, said: "These two station masters are totally responsible, they did not follow basic rules of railway traffic control under which only one train should be allowed to pass at a time."

 

Minister blamed

   

Singh said "either they had gone mad or there was clear intention to sabotage", adding that the two men had gone missing since the accident.

   

"Either [the station masters] had gone mad or there was clear intention to sabotage"

Dharam Singh,
Indian Railways Area Manager

Opposition politicians demanded the resignation of the railway minister and newspapers blamed successive governments for allowing the rail network to crumble into disrepair.

   

A railway spokesman said the death toll from the accident in Punjab had risen to 38, and 53 people were in hospital with injuries.

   

On Wednesday, another inter-state train ran into a car at a railway crossing in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, killing five people travelling in the car, an official said.

 

The Indian rail network operates nearly 14,000 trains a day, carrying more than 13 million passengers, but has about 300 accidents a year.