A train ran over a group of Hindu pilgrims at a crowded station in eastern India early Monday, killing at least 28 people. A mob then beat the driver 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.
Some reports said the driver had died, while others said he was in a critical condition.
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.
Railway official Arunendra Kumar said the train was not supposed to stop 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 metres beyond the spot where it hit the pilgrims. Angry mobs then pulled out the train driver and beat him.
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.
India's Railway Minister M Mallikarjun Kharge has announced ex-gratia compensation of $7,903 to the kin of the victims and $1,580 to the injured.
He urged the provincial authorities in Bihar to maintain law and order and facilitate normal train operations.
Forty deaths every day
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.
Railway officials said a rescue train on its way to Dhamara Ghat had to be halted at Saharsa because the tracks were blocked. Dhamara Ghat is about 280km north of Patna, the state capital.
Monday was the last day of monthlong prayer ceremonies at the Katyayani temple near Dhamara Ghat, a popular Hindu pilgrimage site. The pilgrims were returning from offering morning prayers.
About 40 people on average die every day on India's vast but decrepit railway network. Some passengers fall off overcrowded commuter trains. More than 18.5 million passengers travel every day.