An intercity passenger train collided with a bus that tried to dash through a railroad crossing in northwestern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing 35 people and injuring dozens, police and witnesses said.
The passenger bus, apparently racing another bus, slipped past a warning gate and tried to cross a railroad track at Polgahawela, a small suburban town surrounded by rice and coconut farming villages some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Colombo, the capital.
The bus was reduced to a mangled heap of metal after it caught fire. There were opened suitcases with passengers' clothes strewn on the track and on the sides. Some of the clothes were draped across the engine.
Thirty-five people died in the crash and 43 were injured, 30 of them seriously, said police spokesman Rienzie Perera.
All the victims were aboard the bus, which was dragged by the train for about 100 meters (yards) after the collision.
Railway employee E.M. Jayaratna, who was on duty, said the automatic gate had closed as the train was approaching.
"There were other vehicles waiting, but this bus overtook them and came near the gate," he said. "They thought they would manage to speed up and cross, but it did not happen."
"Our initial investigation suggests that two buses were competing with each other to reach Colombo faster," police spokesman Perera said.
A senior railway official said the barricade at the railroad crossing blocks only one lane - one of more than 900 such crossings in Sri Lanka.
Drivers often race through the open lane to cross ahead of approaching trains, and accidents are common, though not of this magnitude.
"In this case the bus driver decided to pass using the (open) side of the crossing," said G.R.P. Chandratilleke, the operating superintendent of the railways.
The train was traveling from the capital Colombo to the temple city of Kandy when the accident took place. The bus was on its way to Colombo from Dambulla.
Earlier Wednesday, police put the death toll at 50, citing reports filed by local officials minutes after the collision.
Initially "some of the unconscious people were counted as dead," said Perera, in explaining the downward revision.
Dr. Amanda Goonesekara, the director of the local hospital, also said 35 people died.
Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island country of 19 million people, has a tiny railroad system established by British colonial rulers in 1865.
KRISHAN FRANCIS, Associated Press Writer