Death Toll Mounts In India

India's national television on Saturday broadcast images of corpses pried from the wreckage of a train collision, hoping victims' families would recognize bodies left unclaimed after one of the nation's worst rail accidents.

Scores of bodies in wooden coffins were loaded into open trucks and taken for identification or mass cremation. Authorities cleared away the last of the wreckage from the two-train collision and declared a final death toll of 208.

Two days after the accident in the northwestern town of Khanna, about 80 bodies remained unidentified and unclaimed. Photographers videotaped the corpses and belongings for showing on national television, in hopes that relatives would step forward.

Police said they would hold the bodies in a mortuary in nearby Patiala for a few days, then any remaining corpses would be cremated together.

In pre-dawn mist Thursday, the Calcutta-bound Sealdah Express collided with cars that had uncoupled from the Frontier Mail and toppled into the path of the oncoming train on a parallel track.

Train cars crumpled on top of one another, pinning dead and injured under tons of sheared metal. It took more than 24 hours to move giant cranes through the surrounding wheat fields to untangle the cars.

The national railway began an investigation into what caused the last four cars of the Frontier Mail to de-couple and separate from the rest of the train.

The Pioneer newspaper said Saturday, citing preliminary findings of the Railway Board, that a crack in the rails may have caused the cars to de couple. Metallurgical tests were under way to see whether poor quality steel or fatigue could have caused the crack, it said.

India has about 300 accidents a year on its railways, the largest rail network under one management in the world. The worst was three years ago, when one train rammed the rear of another that had suddenly stopped, killing 358 people.

Most of the accidents are blamed on human error or outdated equipment. The railways complain about the high expense of modernizing and maintaining more than 37,200 miles of track and the 14,000 trains that run every day.

Train travel is the most common form of long distance transportation and fares are kept low for most of the 12 million passengers who ride the trains each day.