Most of the 2,000 passengers aboard the two long-distance trains were asleep when the crash happened, at about 3.35am local time. It was India's worst train crash in three years, and the death toll is likely to rise further.
Among the dead were 40 soldiers going home to Calcutta. Last night bodies were still lying in the cars. The authorities have called for more gas cutters, cranes and other equipment.
The townspeople of Khanna, a wheat marketing town three miles away, were among the first to reach the site of the crash. Many residents took off their sweaters or shawls and offered them to passengers, many of whom were dressed in night clothes or had lost their belongings.
Thirteen million people ride India's rail network every day. It is one of the biggest systems in the world, but has no rivals for dilapidation and bad timekeeping. Yesterday's disaster was overshadowed by the catastrophe that occurred near Delhi in 1995, when 335 people died.
The first explanation for the crash, offered by the Railways Minister, Nitish Kumar, who toured the site yesterday morning, was that a defective coupling between two coaches of the Amritsar-bound Golden Temple Mail caused some of the coaches to be derailed; minutes later the southbound Sealdah Express ploughed into the derailed coaches, strewing wreckage across the tracks. Later it was being suggested that the true cause may have been that the two trains were erroneously directed along the same line. The police ruled out any suspicion that the crash might have been caused deliberately.
Rescue workers cut apart the crushed coaches with special equipment, but they were hampered in their efforts by spillages of diesel oil under the coaches, leading to fears of a fire.
Amritsar, destination of the northbound express, is the location of the Sikhs' holy Golden Temple.Reuse content