Local media said a crowd in Amritsar failed to hear the sound of the approaching train as it was drowned out by the noise of fireworks being set off for a Hindu festival.

Family members cry after seeing the body of their relative after a commuter train traveling at high speed ran through a crowd of people on the railway tracks on Friday, outside a hospital in Amritsar, India, on October 20, 2018.
Family members cry after seeing the body of their relative after a commuter train traveling at high speed ran through a crowd of people on the railway tracks on Friday, outside a hospital in Amritsar, India, on October 20, 2018. (Reuters)

A speeding train ploughed through a crowd watching fireworks during a religious festival in northern India on Friday, killing at least 60 people, police said.

The victims crowded the rail track on the outskirts of Amritsar, a city in Punjab state. According to a preliminary investigation into the incident, they did not see or hear the train, which failed to stop after the accident.

A witness said the train didn't even sound its whistle as it sped past the site, where hundreds were watching the burning of an effigy of demon Ravana during the Hindu festival of Dussehra.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis reports.

"Why did authorities allow the fireworks display so close to the railroad track,'" he asked. He told the Republic television channel that he lost two brothers.

Another witness said the victims didn't realize that a train was coming their way because the fireworks were too loud.

Navjot Kaur Siddhu, a local Congress party politician who was the chief guest at the religious function, said the celebrations take place in the area every year and railroad authorities are alerted to run the trains at slow speeds.

A large number of people live in the area with homes on both sides of the railroad track, she said.

Shatrughan Das, an injured 35-year-old factory worker, said he was sitting close to the railroad track watching the fireworks. "I didn't see the train coming. I fell unconscious. I saw the police taking me to a hospital as I regained consciousness."

"I am feeling a strong headache and pain in my back and legs," Das said from his hospital bed. "But I don't have serious injuries."

Following the accident, people rushed to the site and shouted at railway officials for not taking precautions.

"Railways cannot be blamed"

Manoj Sinha, the junior minister in charge of running the world's fourth largest rail system, said they couldn't be held responsible for people gathered on tracks.

"Railways cannot be blamed, railways were not informed about the ceremony. Why was it organised there? There was no notice given to the railways," he told reporters as he visited the site early on Saturday, surrounded by officials and police.

The site of the accident is nearly 465 kilometres north of New Delhi.

Fifty bodies had already been found and at least 50 injured were admitted to a government-run hospital, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Rajesh Sharma, a magistrate, as saying.

As the effigy was lit and the fireworks started at the religious function, a section of the crowd started retreating toward railroad tracks while watching the event.

While accidents are relatively common on India's sprawling rail network, Friday's was among India's deadliest in recent years.

In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off railroad tracks in eastern India.

Source: AP