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Safety pledge for India's railways as crash toll hits 26

India's new railways minister promised to improve safety on the ramshackle network Tuesday as the death toll from a train crash in the north rose to 26 after more bodies were pulled from carriages.

NEW DELHI: India's new railways minister promised to improve safety on the ramshackle network Tuesday as the death toll from a train crash in the north rose to 26 after more bodies were pulled from carriages.

A passenger express travelling in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh ploughed into a stationary freight train at a station on Monday morning, killing 26 and injuring 44, Indian Railways spokesman Alok Singh told AFP.

Emergency and medical teams worked into the night Monday to prise open the carriages to reach the dead and injured, but were hampered by a lack of specialist cutting equipment.

"Safety is one of the important factors that need to be taken care of by the railways ministry," new Railways Minister D V Sadananda Gowda told reporters in New Delhi as he took office, according to the PTI news agency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was sworn in on Monday, promised a sum of 200,000 rupees ($3,400) per family to relatives of the dead and a further 50,000 rupees each to the wounded, an official statement from his office said.

Deadly accidents are frequent on the poorly-funded Indian railways, which are still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country.

In 2012 a government report said almost 15,000 people were killed every year on the network, describing the deaths as an annual "massacre" due mainly to poor safety standards.

The railways have ordered an investigation into the cause of Monday's crash that derailed six coaches of the Gorakhdham Express at Chureb station in Khalilabad, 700 kilometres (430 miles) east of New Delhi.

Local official Arvind Diwedi from Sant Kabir Nagar, the nearest town to the accident site, criticised the response of the railway emergency services as rescue operations finished on Tuesday.

"The railways were slow in responding to rescue efforts. They did not even have proper tools needed for the rescue operation," he said.

In his election campaign, Modi expressed concern over the neglect of India's railways and promised an overhaul of the network, mostly built by the British before India's independence in 1947.

In one of his speeches, he floated the idea of a high-speed rail network across the nation, modelled on the Japanese bullet train system.

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