updated 4/18/2008 3:26:50 PM ET 2008-04-18T19:26:50

More than 20,000 people have been killed on Mumbai’s notoriously overcrowded train system over the past five years — many of them crushed, run over or electrocuted — according to official data.

Mumbai’s trains are the lifeline of India’s financial capital, carrying some 7 million commuters every day, but an average of 10 people don’t survive the trip each day.

India’s Central and Western Railway was forced this week to release the harrowing data, showing at least 20,706 people have died over the past five years, after a Mumbai activist, Chetan Kothari, filed a request under the country’s Right to Information Act.

“There should be more awareness that it’s just not worth the risk. Many people who die are the sole breadwinners of their family,” Kothari said.

Chronic crowding blamed
Officials blamed chronic overcrowding and reckless behavior by passengers for most of the fatalities.

“No other city in India has so many people traveling by one mode of transport. There are a minimum of 10 deaths daily on the railways,” railway commissioner A.K. Sharma told The Associated Press.

Commuters routinely struggle to find space in the coaches, with many forced to hang out the doors or hold on to iron bars over the windows.

During morning and evening rush hours, some commuters — their bags slung across their shoulders — balance on the roofs of the electric-powered trains despite the danger.

“The maximum deaths are due to people falling off crowded trains and electrocution of people sitting on the top of the train,” Sharma said. He said many others were hit by trains when they tried to run across the tracks instead of using bridges.

'I was really scared'
Commuters said riding the trains is a frightening and dangerous experience but they have little choice.

“When I started traveling by train two years ago I was really scared when I saw the crowd and the way you get pushed into the train,” said Sameera Hinat, a 21-year-old student.

Despite the risk, she prefers standing near the open doors. “At least you get some air to breathe,” she said.

The railways try to deter reckless behavior, fining those who sit on the roofs or run across tracks up to $13, Sharma said.

But only about 100 people are fined each day, and most people ignore the threat.

“People are in a hurry. They want to save five minutes to get home or to the office quicker,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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