NEW DELHI—A blast hit a passenger train and flung it into the path of a speeding goods train coming from the opposite direction in eastern India early Friday, a railway spokesman said, adding many deaths were feared.
The incident occurred in an area known to be a stronghold of Maoist rebels, and a railway spokesman said sabotage was suspected.
A reporter for the Telegraph newspaper told Reuters from the accident site that he had counted at least 20 bodies.
“I can see at least four passenger coaches completely mangled. I am seeing many bodies crushed under the goods train,” Naresh Jana told Reuters.
He described a scene of chaos and panic. “People are crying. Rescuers are struggling to save the survivors and get the bodies out.”
The incident comes days after a passenger airliner crashed in southern India, killing 158 people.
The passenger train was going to Mumbai from the eastern metropolis of Kolkata in West Bengal state. The incident occurred in the state’s Jhargram area.
“The blast derailed 13 coaches of the Gyaneshwari Express. These coaches then fell on the other track where a goods train rammed into some of them,” Soumitra Majumdar, a railway spokesman said.
“We fear many casualties. There could be many people dead. We don’t have details yet.”
Majumdar said sabotage was suspected because the passenger train had been hit by a blast.
The Maoist rebels, who often attack police, government buildings and infrastructure such as railway stations, have in recent months stepped up attacks in response to a government security offensive to clear them out of their jungle bases.
The rebels blew up a bus in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh this month, killing 35 people, about a month after 76 police were killed in another attack.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.
The decades-old movement is now present in a third of the country and while they have made few inroads into cities, they have spread into rural pockets of up to 28 states and hurt potential business worth billions of dollars.