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Express train hits crowd of pilgrims at Indian station, killing at least 28

From Neha Sharma, for CNN
updated 7:56 PM EDT, Mon August 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The train driver is seriously injured after being beaten, a railway official says
  • An express train hit people who were on the tracks, officials say
  • They had just gotten off a local train at a station in Bihar state
  • People at the scene reacted by setting the express train on fire, an official says

New Delhi (CNN) -- At least 28 people, many of them Hindu pilgrims, were killed and eight were injured when they were hit by an express train at a station in eastern India on Monday, authorities said.

The people were getting off a local passenger train when the fast-moving express train plowed into them, officials said.

People at the station reacted furiously, setting the express train on fire and severely beating its driver, railway officials said.

The collision took place around 9:15 a.m. Monday at Dhamara station in the eastern state of Bihar, said Syed Parvez Alam, a senior local official who gave the approximate death toll.

"It's very difficult to give exact number of casualties right now as bodies are badly crushed," a top Bihar police official, S.K. Bharadwaj, told reporters.

The deaths are another shocking example of the thousands of people who are reported killed on the tracks of India's colossal rail system each year.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed "deep sorrow and shock at the loss of lives of pilgrims," his office said in a statement.

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A Hindu holy month

Monday is an auspicious day in the holy month of Shravan, when many devotees of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, head to holy sites across the country.

India's state-run railway authorities said the local train passengers were walking on the tracks when the express train struck them.

"This station is a station in which there were two trains that were already standing because they were supposed to stop there and a super-fast express train was made to pass through there as part of the schedule," Arunendra Kumar, the chairman of the Indian Railway Board, told reporters.

"The passengers got out of the train and got on to the track, and they were moving on that track at the time the train came and got run over," Kumar said.

He said that it wasn't yet the right time "to talk about responsibility" and that "the primary focus is on relief."

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Driver 'brutally beaten'

But Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, the Indian minister of state for railways, said that relief trains sent to the area had had to stop far away from the scene because of the violent reaction by the people there.

The relief trains are waiting for police to reach the scene before they enter the area, Choudhary told reporters.

Kumar said the driver of the express train was being treated for serious injuries at a hospital after being "brutally beaten" by the angry people at the station.

In his statement, the prime minister appealed for calm "so that the relief and rescue operations can be carried out without any hindrance."

About 15,000 people die each year simply trying to cross India's mammoth network of railway lines, a report by a safety panel said last year.

People are dying, it said, because of unmanned train crossings and a lack of barricades, fences and pedestrian bridges. Or the platforms are too narrow and stations lack facilities such as elevators for the disabled.

CNN's Sumnima Udas, Harmeet Shah Singh and Brian Walker contributed to this report.

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