| The wreckage at the accident site. (Reuters)
Mumbai, June 23: Thirty-four holidaymakers died last night as a Konkan Railway holiday express crashed into huge boulders sitting on the tracks in blinding rain and pitch darkness.
Three bogies and the engine of the train returning to Mumbai from Ratnagiri jumped rails at the mouth of a tunnel near Vaibhavwadi by the impact of the crash. The boulders rolled down the mountainside and onto the tracks during a landslide set off by heavy rain, railway officials said.
More tourists are feared dead as a bogey of the Karwar-Mumbai Holiday Special Express is still trapped inside the tunnel. Unofficial sources said the toll could go up.
Agency reports said a fresh landslide around the time of the crash 10.30 pm had buried some bogies and was hindering rescue operations.
Rajesh Kumar, a survivor who reached the Mumbai Central bus depot this evening along with 55 others in a bus arranged by the railway, said little could be done to pull out the wailing passengers trapped in the mangled bogeys.
It was pitch dark and on top of that it was raining. We did whatever little we could, like offer food and water to the injured, but help for those trapped, many of whom could have died after hours of struggle, came only in the morning, he recounted.
Hurling himself into the arms of his father, Kumar continued: The region is very inaccessible and rains have delayed the operations. We have a feeling the death toll will go up.
Kumar said there was no way rescuers could have reached the desolate and unpaved mountainous stretch between Rajapur and Vaibhavwadi stations at that hour. Their train had left Vaibhavwadi at 9.10 pm and was scheduled to reach Mumbai at 5 am today.
Three more busloads of survivors landed at the state transport bus depot of Mumbai Central in the evening. Most of the 25 injured have been admitted to a government-run hospital in Kankavli. The train driver is reported to be in critical condition.
Railway minister Nitish Kumar, who rushed to the site with senior officials, has announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to family members of victims. He has also ordered an inquiry by the railway commissioner (safety).
Konkan Railway officials have ruled out the possibility of sabotage. D.S. Chouhan said prime facie it appeared that a landslide had caused the accident.
It is very difficult to negotiate the ravines and the tunnels during the monsoons, he said, adding that the driver may not have spotted the boulders in time to apply the brakes.
Most train services on the Konkan Railway route and in the Mumbai-Goa section have been disrupted. Railway officials said it could take between 24-48 hours to clear debris and restore normal services. A railway divisional release said at least seven trains could be cancelled or rescheduled.