| Soldiers search for bodies amid the accident wreckage. (Reuters)
Mukerian (Punjab), Dec. 14: After the deafening sound, metal crashed into metal. Then the cries of pain cut across the green paddy fields.
When the 'blinding' dust cleared, the horror of the collision struck Tarsem Singh. A coach of one train lay on top of the engine of the other and badly damaged bogies lay in a heap of mangled steel and wheels.
Thirty-seven people were killed and dozens injured when the speeding Ahmedabad-bound Jammu Tawi Express rammed into the Jalandhar-Pathankot local shuttle near Mukerian town this afternoon after both trains were given permission to travel on the same track.
Among the dead were 11 women and an infant. Over 40 were injured. The express train was carrying mostly pilgrims returning from Vaishno Devi. The drivers of both trains died.
Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, who in the evening reached the accident site, about 40 km from Jalandhar, promised strong action against those found responsible for what he called a 'brutal murder'. 'Both trains were allowed to move on the same track by two stations despite the station heads having communication links,' he told reporters. 'I don't consider this an accident. I consider this brutal murder. It is an irresponsible human error.'
For Tarsem, the day began like any other ' in the fields. The single rail track ran next to his farm and he was, as usual, waiting for the distant ripple in the wind that would signal the approaching throb of the Jammu Tawi Express.
Today, he saw the train approach from the direction it always came from and smash into the local train 'that should not have been on the track at that time'.
'It was a deafening sound and the ground shook under me. Then came the clanging sound of metal, some sparks and a lot of dust. I could hear people howling and groaning and crying for help,' Tarsem said.
'I saw smashed bodies in the damaged coaches. There was a woman and a small child next to her. Both were dead,' said area resident Shyam Babbar. At least five bogies were badly damaged.
'We felt like there was a bomb blast. I then fell unconscious,' said Renu, who escaped injury as she was travelling in one of the rear bogies.
The first to the rescue were the villagers. While one went to inform the administration, another ran to call a relative in the army at Pathankot. The rest, less than a dozen, picked up what they could ' sticks, rods, screwdrivers, bed sheets and ointments. The army arrived soon.
Railway officials at the site called off the rescue operations around 5, a little later after a special train carrying the dazed survivors left for Ahmedabad.
'There are no more bodies to be located and it is also getting dark. The bodies of those who are lying smashed in the coaches, if there are any, will be extricated later,' an official said.
Hoshiarpur SSP Mohammad Farooqi, however, ruled out the possibility of any more victims still being trapped inside.
'I know nothing. I am just lying here in pain,' said Ram Naik, another survivor.