At least 37 persons were feared dead and 30 others injured after being run over by Saharsa-Patna Rajya Rani Express at Dhamara halt on Monday morning, triggering a protest by local residents who set two trains afire, attacked the local station and held several railway officials hostage.
Thirty of the dead are women, three children and four men. The death toll may rise, as many of the injured are critical. Also, since several places leading to the accident site are submerged under flood waters and the nearest motorable road is 6km away, no ambulance or police rescue team could reach the site directly.
The victims were the pilgrims heading toward the nearby Katyayani temple for special prayers as Monday was the last day of the auspicious month of Swaan.
Eyewitnesses said in a hurry to run towards the temple, many of the pilgrims got down directly on the adjacent track at the same time Rajya Rani Express whizzed past at the speed of about 80km per hour.
Railway Board cairman Arunendra Kumar said the train was not supposed to halt at Dhamara and was given a green signal, but the pilgrims were on the tracks thinking they could stop it.
Though the driver applied emergency brakes, it was too late by then, he said, adding an internal inquiry has been ordered into the incident.
But the angry local residents and the pilgrims blamed the railway authorities and set afire the Express and two other trains. They pulled out the driver of the Express train on the platform and beat him up. While a local MP said the driver was beaten to death, railway officials said he was being treated at a hospital.
They have also attacked the local station, held six to seven local railway officials hostage and forced other railway officials to flee from the place. The smoke from the burning trains could be spotted 8km away, eyewitnesses said.