“The people we have lost, we will not be able to bring them back. But the government is with their families in their grief,” Mr. Modi said after visiting the site. “This is a very serious incident for the government. We have given directions for all lines of inquiry, and whoever is found responsible will be given the strongest punishment. They will not be spared.”
As Mr. Modi left the scene after reviewing the wreckage, a large police contingent struggled to hold back a crowd of thousands who had gathered nearby. Excavators removed what was left of the collided trains, and railway workers tried to clear the tracks so train service could restart.
Some initial details about the cause of the disaster were beginning to emerge, though much remained unclear.
According to an initial government report seen by The New York Times, a high-speed passenger train traveling from Kolkata, the Coromandel Express, collided with a freight train that had been idled at a small-town station, Bahanaga Bazar, around 7 p.m. local time. The passenger train was “going at full speed across the station as it was not supposed to stop” there, the report said.
After smashing into the freight train, the passenger train, with 1,257 passengers sitting in reserved seats, derailed. Twenty-one of its coaches bounced off the track, with three of them sprawled onto another track.
“Simultaneously,” according to the report, a passenger train from Bengaluru to Kolkata, the Yesvantpur-Howrah Express, with 1,039 passengers, was headed in the opposite direction — on the track that the three dislocated coaches lay. This second collision knocked the last two coaches of the third train off its tracks.
Officials did not yet have any explanation of why the freight train was stopped, nor why the Coromandel Express was not alerted to its presence on the tracks, which triggered the entire disaster.