Additional Director General of Police S.K. Bhardwaj confirmed the death of 35 Hindu pilgrims (Kanwariyas) when the Rajya Rani Express train mowed them down while they were trying to cross the rail track at the Dhamara railway station on the Saharsa-Mansi route of the East Central Railway (ECR).
The death toll may increase because detailed information is yet to come from the accident site, he said.
The train was travelling from Saharsa to Patna when the accident took place between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. The express train does not have a scheduled stop at Dhamara station.
"The accident took place when pilgrims were trying to cross the railway track after alighting from a local train," he said.
Soon after the incident, angry pilgrims and locals set ablaze six bogies, including one AC coach, of the train and attacked railway officials.
"Some angry people attacked the train driver and seriously injured him. They beat him up mercilessly. Besides, some railway officials have been held hostage by them," a police official said.
Bhardwaj said top officials of the district administration have been asked to rush to the accident site.
Chief Public Relations Officer of ECR, Amitabh Prabhakar told IANS over telephone from Hajipur, the railway headquarters near Patna, that the situation went nearly out of control at the railway station following the incident as hundreds of angry people began agitating.
"The railway officials are not in a position to visit the accident site," he said, adding that there was a lot of "confusion".
"It is difficult to say any thing exact for now. It will take another one or two hours to say anything concrete after security forces are mobilised to clear the agitating people," he added.
In the month of Shravan (July-August), thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit a temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand, where they offer holy water from the Ganga river to Lord Shiva at an ancient temple.
Kanwariya pilgrims in Bihar collect water from the Ganga in Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district. They carry this holy water in "kanwars" (a single pole, usually of bamboo, with two water pots dangling from opposite ends) and cover 105 km on foot to reach the temple.
After offering the holy water, they return to their native places in vehicles or trains.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed grief at the incident and asked railway officials to launch rescue operations and arrange proper treatment for the injured.