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Runaway train speeds 43 miles down tracks in India without a driver

New Delhi — Social media channels lit up Monday as gobsmacked Indians shared a video showing a driverless train zooming past several stations at high speed. It was no cutting-edge robotic public transport innovation, however — but a fully loaded freight train that was apparently left unattended, on a slope, by an engineer who forgot to pull the emergency brake.

Indian Railways, the national rail operator, ordered an investigation Monday into what could have been a major disaster in a country where train tracks often bisect busy neighborhoods and collisions are common.

"We have ordered an inquiry," Deepak Kumar, a Northern Railways spokesperson, told the French news agency AFP, adding that no one had been hurt in the incident.

The 53-carriage freight train loaded with gravel was on its way from Jammu in northern India to Punjab on Sunday morning when it stopped in Kathua for a crew change. Indian media reports say the driver and his assistant got off without applying the skid brakes.

A screengrab from video shared widely by Indian media outlets, which CBS News could not independently verify, shows a 53-carriage freight train loaded with gravel barrelling through a station in northeast India on Feb. 25, 2023, after it was reportedly left without the brakes locked during a stop in Kathua and started rolling downhill.

It soon started rolling down the tracks, which are on a gradient, before eventually barreling down the line at 53 miles per hour, racing through several stations and covering 43 miles in total before it was brought to a halt.

Videos shared on social media showed the train zooming through stations at high speed.

Officials had closed off railway crossings on the train's path to avoid accidents.

Wooden blocks were then placed on the tracks to reduce the speed of the train and, eventually, they brought it to a stop.

This is the second such incident in India. In 2018, about 1,000 passengers had a narrow escape when their train, running from the western state of Gujarat to Odisha in the east, rolled about 7 miles without a driver. The cause of that incident was the same: The driver had forgotten to apply skid brakes at a station when the engine was being changed.

In June 2023, nearly 300 people were killed in a train collision in eastern India caused by a signal system error. In 2016, 152 people were killed when a passenger train derailed in the central state of Uttar Pradesh.

The country's worst train disaster, which killed more than 800 people in 1981, was when a passenger train derailed and tumbled into a river in the eastern state of Bihar during a cyclone.

India has one of the largest railway networks in the world, and an estimated 13 million people travel on trains every day. But significant investment in recent years aimed at modernizing the network, a significant proportion of the country's rail infrastructure is still outdated.

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