BANGKOK: At least 20 people were killed and more than 40 injured after a freight train collided with a tour bus near Bangkok on Sunday (Oct 11), officials said.
The collision happened at around 8am (9am Singapore time) at Khlong Khwaeng Klan station in Chachoengsao province, about 50km east of the capital Bangkok.
There were about 60 passengers in the chartered bus travelling from neighbouring Samut Prakan province to a temple in Chachoengsao, said province governor Maitree Tritilanond.
They were planning to offer yellow robes to monks – a traditional ceremony held within a month of the end of Buddhist Lent, he told reporters.
The bus was on the track when the train hit, said the province's disaster management agency. There was no barricade, it added.
Dozens of injured passengers were rushed to nearby medical facilities for treatment, said provincial hospital director Sombat Chutimanukul.
"Four are in critical condition and eight remain under observation" out of the 23 admitted to her hospital, she told reporters.
By late afternoon, more than 30 passengers who had sustained mild injuries were sent home, said a local police chief.
Footage shared by a government department showed the bus edging from the road onto train tracks before a blue cargo train slammed into its side.
"I was frozen in fear when I saw the crash ... It was a terrible sight," said Pitchitra Thongwichit, 34, who lives close to the tracks.
"All the passengers were moaning and crying for help."
Early images by rescue workers showed gnarled metal and debris, with bodies lying by the train tracks and people's belongings scattered. The bus was overturned on its side, the top of it ripped off.
Factory worker Samruan Thongdee said he was having breakfast nearby when he heard the crash.
"I called my colleagues to come to help before the emergency workers arrived," the 57-year-old told AFP. "I managed to drag a woman from the wreckage and helped her up onto the train platform."
Rescue workers lifted the injured on stretchers into nearby parked ambulances, and two cranes arrived early in the afternoon to lift the vehicle off the tracks so that police could better assess the carnage.
The police are investigating the cause of the accident, the Chachoengsao Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office said.
Governor Maitree said the crossing has an alarm but no barrier to block traffic when a train is coming. He said the province will install speed bumps and barriers, and also cut down trees near the crossing to improve visibility.
"Let this case be a lesson, and we will make improvements at risky spots so such accidents will not take place again," Maitree said in a statement.
Thai premier Prayut Chan-o-cha gave his condolences and instructed authorities to investigate the cause of the crash, a government spokesman said in a statement.
Such deadly accidents are common in Thailand, which regularly tops lists of the world's most lethal roads, with speeding, drunk driving and weak law enforcement all contributing factors.
Thailand has the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the world, according to a 2018 World Health Organization report.
Though a majority of the victims are motorcyclists, bus crashes involving groups of tourists and migrant labourers often grab headlines.
In March 2018, at least 18 people were killed and dozens wounded when a bus carrying people returning from holiday in northeastern Thailand swerved off the road and smashed into a tree.
Travel throughout the kingdom has been thrown into disarray this weekend by a big storm hitting the region, leaving roads in poor conditions and some provinces deluged in shin-high floods.