Two Britons killed after train derails in northern India

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Two Britons killed after train derails in northern India

Shimla (India) (AFP) - Two British women were killed and nine other passengers injured on Saturday when a train carrying tourists to the hill town of Shimla in northern India derailed, police said.

"Two British nationals have been killed," S.Z.H Zaidi, a senior police official for Himachal Pradesh state, told AFP.

"Nine people are injured including six Britons," he said, adding that the other three injured were Indian nationals.

The two passengers who died were both women aged in their sixties, Zaidi said.

The train, a special chartered service carrying a group of 37 British holidaymakers and a few Indian crew members, derailed at around 1:00 pm local time (0730 GMT).

Photographs showed several carriages belonging to the red and yellow narrow-gauge train tilting at a sharp angle by the side of the rails as uniformed officials inspected the site.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately clear, but the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said three carriages may have left the track because the train was travelling too fast.

An Indian historian who was aboard the train working as a tourist guide, described how he narrowly managed to escape unharmed when the carriages began to topple.

"Just 30 seconds after I finished my lecture to the tourists, the accident took place," Raaja Bhasin told AFP, adding he felt that "speeding was the cause of the accident".

British foreign office minister Hugo Swire said he was "deeply saddened" at the news of the deaths.

"My thoughts are with their family and friends at this difficult time," he said in a statement.

Railway authorities have ordered an investigation into the incident.

The tiny Kalka-Shimla railway, which opened in 1903, is a tourist highlight of India's Himachal Pradesh state, attracting thousands of visitors from both India and abroad.

Dubbed the "toy train", it follows a scenic 96-kilometre (60-mile) route that includes 103 tunnels, travelling on a winding track from the town of Kalka up to Shimla, the former summer capital of India during British rule.

UNESCO added the train to its world heritage list in the summer of 2008, calling the line "emblematic of the technical and material efforts" made to connect mountain communities with the rest of India.

In a separate railway accident earlier on Saturday, two passengers were killed while eight others were injured when nine carriages came off the rails in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, PTI reported.

The latest incidents come one month after two passenger trains derailed over a bridge while crossing a track hit by flash floods in central India, killing 27 people.

India's railway network, one of the world's largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country, but it is poorly funded and deadly accidents are frequent.

The present government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to invest $137 billion over five years to modernise its crumbling railways, making them safer, faster and more efficient.