LUCKNOW, India — An express train plowed into a parked freight train in northern India on Monday, killing at least 40 people and reducing cars to heaps of torn and twisted metal, officials said.
The Gorakhpur Express passenger train was traveling at high speed and slammed on its brakes in an attempt to stop but hit the train sitting on the tracks near a railway station in Uttar Pradesh state, district magistrate Bharat Lal said.
Six of the cars on the express train derailed, with one car of unreserved seating taking the brunt of the impact and accounting for most of the 40 deaths so far counted, senior police officer Amrendra Sainger said.
‘‘It has been reduced to a mangled iron mesh,’’ he said. ‘‘We do not know how many people were there.’’ While the car seats 72, such trains are often filled beyond capacity.
Authorities were searching for the station master, who disappeared after the accident in Sant Kabir Nagar, about 140 miles southeast of the state capital, Lucknow. But authorities said it was too early to say what had gone wrong and were investigating everything from mechanical failure to human error.
Villagers were the first to reach the scene after the accident, which was about 6 miles from the nearest road.
Narendra Modi, who was sworn in later Monday as India’s new prime minister, expressed condolences to the families of the dead in a message on Twitter.
Accidents are common on India’s railroad network, one of the world’s largest with 20 million people riding daily on about 11,000 passenger trains. Most accidents are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.
Most of the victims Monday were poor farm workers returning to their homes from the neighboring state of Haryana, local police official Zameer Ahmad said. The train departed from Haryana’s Hissar town and was just 29 miles from its destination of Gorakhpur when the accident happened.