Two trains collided head-on Tuesday in northern India, killing at least 31 people in a crash that the railway minister called "brutal murder." Officials blamed the disaster on a communication problem.
At least 50 people were injured, with 16 of them in serious condition, after the crash in rural northern Punjab state, railway officials said.
A "communications snag" between stationmasters at two stations apparently caused the crash, with an express train and a local train allowed to travel toward each other on the same track, said Dha-ram Singh, the top railway official in the area.
"I don't consider it an accident. It is nothing less than a brutal murder," federal Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav said at the site, speaking through a megaphone in front of the wreckage. He said at least 31 people were dead.
The two stationmasters, as well as an engineer who allegedly did not prevent the two trains from moving on the same track, had been sacked and would face criminal charges of culpable homicide, Yadav said.
The accident highlighted blind spots in India's huge train net-work, often criticized for poor safety standards.
Villagers from nearby areas were among the first at the site, driving tractors and carrying metal rods, axes and ropes to pull people out and transport the dead and injured. They also helped set up free soup kitchens and first aid centers near the site.
Soldiers rushed from a nearby base, climbing onto the wreckage and pulling out bodies and survivors as welders cut into the metal.
"I felt a violent jerk, and the next moment I realized everybody was jumping out to save their lives. As we came out we saw the passenger train engine on fire and twisted pieces of iron all around," Neeta Mohindroo, a passenger on the express train, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.
The drivers of both trains died.
Deputy Commissioner Harjit Singh, who supervised the rescue operations, said all bodies had been found except that of the express train's assistant driver, which was trapped in the twisted metal of the engine.
It was India's second major train accident this year. In June, 14 people died when a high-speed train derailed after hitting loose boulders on the track in western Maharashtra state.