Video on social media shows the train, which was traveling Saturday evening from the western state of Gujarat to Odisha state in the east, speeding past stations as onlookers and passengers scream helplessly.
The train was eventually stopped after railway workers placed wooden wedges on the tracks, bringing it to a crunching halt.
None of the estimated 1,000 passengers were injured in the incident and the train reached its final destination two hours past its schedule, said Jaideep Gupta, a divisional railway manager in the Indian Railways’ eastern branch.
There remains confusion among officials as to the true number of passengers aboard the train, with East Coast Railway’s chief public relations officer JP Mishra suggesting that several hundred passengers may have already exited the train prior to the carriages becoming detached from the engine and the true number may be closer to 500.
Indian Railways has announced a monthlong safety drive to train and educate staff in response to the incident. East Coast Railway suspended a total of seven railway employees, as an investigation by senior officials into the incident continues.
“For us, safety is paramount,” Gupta said. “There is no compromise of safety.”
The chief minister of Odissa expressed concern over the condition of the state’s train network, calling on the government to take “remedial action to address the lapses” which put “passengers in danger.”
The incident is believed to have occurred when rail staff neglected to apply the skid brakes as workers were attaching a new engine to the passenger carriages, resulting in the carriages rolling for 7 miles (12 kilometers) until the next station.
Railway staff notified the control room immediately as the train started rolling away, Gupta said. The control room then ensured that the tracks for the next two stations were cleared.
The train’s staff finally stopped the train after it lost velocity when it came to an upward slope. The operators inside the train applied the emergency handbrake as station staff put wooden blocks on the tracks.
The accident is the latest to beset India’s extensive rail network. In August 2017, at least 23 people were killed and 40 injured when an express train derailed near the city of Khatauli in northern India.
About 30,000 Indians died in railway accidents in 2015, according to the latest available official data.
The Indian Railways system is one of the oldest in the world, built largely by the British during its period of colonial rule. Since then, the railway system has struggled to modernize, suffering from a chronic case of underfunding as its tracks and cars age.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government earmarked more than 8.5 trillion rupees ($134 billion) to upgrade the country’s railways, including $20 billion just to improve safety.