Fifteen people were killed Tuesday in a train accident in north India, an official said, amid a political row over a plan to raise fares to pay for a safety upgrade on the network.
A train travelling across Uttar Pradesh state crashed into an overloaded jeep carrying 19 people as it tried to pass an unmanned crossing in Mahamaya Nagar district, 296 kilometres from state capital Lucknow.
“The jeep was thrown 20 feet (six meters) away,” a state home ministry official who declined to give his name told AFP, adding that 15 passengers were killed instantly and four others were critically injured.
The accident occurred around 0200 GMT on Tuesday morning, he added.
Many rail crossings in India are unmanned and lack functioning signals, raising the risk of collisions for vehicle drivers attempting to cross.
The cash-strapped train system has a notoriously bad safety record, with a recent official report revealing almost 15,000 people are killed every year crossing rail tracks — a figure that the government described as a “massacre”.
Last week, the national rail minister pledged to make safety his top priority on the network and hiked fares for the first time in nearly a decade, earning criticism from the opposition and his own party.
The minister, Dinesh Trivedi, resigned Sunday after being forced out by the head of his Trinamool Congress Party, a minority coalition partner in the government which called the fares hike “anti-poor”.
India’s rail network carries 18 million people daily and is still the main form of long-distance travel despite fierce competition from private airlines.