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Trains collide and explode in India

A collision between two trains in northern India kills 358 people on this day in 1995. It was the worst train accident in the country’s history, eclipsing a deadly 1981 accident. Both of the killer crashes involved cows. Due to the special significance of the cow in the Hindu religion, the animals are permitted to roam freely throughout India; occasionally, this can cause serious problems. The rail disaster on this day in 1995 at Firozabad was partially caused by a cow, but was also a result of problems with India’s rail system.

Travel by train in India is extremely cheap by international standards–people can travel hundreds of miles for only a few dollars. Of course, this means that the unreserved coach cars are overcrowded, the trains are tightly scheduled and safety procedures are not always followed faithfully.

On August 20, 1995, these factors culminated in tragedy. At approximately 2 a.m., the Kalindi Express, headed to New Delhi, hit a cow on the tracks near Firozabad, about 185 miles southeast of its destination. None of the 900 passengers were hurt, but the train’s brakes were damaged by the collision and it could not continue the journey. Lai Sharman, the local signalman, failed to stop the next express train coming through on the tracks, which may have been only minutes behind the Kalindi Express—dangerously close.

The Pureshotham Express from Puri, with 1,300 mostly sleeping passengers onboard, came down the tracks at full speed with no warning that the Kalindi was fully stopped in front of it. Six cars on each of the trains virtually exploded on impact. Survivors said that there were bodies and body parts thrown everywhere. The next morning, cranes and heavy equipment were brought in to find all the bodies under the wreckage. In addition to the 358 people who lost their lives, another 400 were seriously injured.

Signalman Sharma disappeared and was never found. No major changes were made to the rail system in India following this disaster.

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