The Shramjivi Express was travelling from New Delhi to Patna through the fractious state at a time of high tension between Muslim and Hindu groups in the area who have a history of mutual violence and antagonism. The train derailed suddenly after hitting a broken rail, throwing the carriages in the air and dragging thirteen of them off the rails, some into each other.
Fortunately, there was no fire, and local people and emergency services were able to rescue eveyone from the wreckage promptly and effectively, with the 80 injured receiving medical care at local hospitals. Twelve passengers were reported to have been killed as a result of the crash, all in one carriage which rolled over.
Following the incident, reports from local police surfaced indicating that the train had derailed because somebody had removed restraining fishplates from the rails, thus causing them to shift out of alignment as successive trains passed over them. These plates had not been stolen, but had been deliberately removed and left in the vicinity, indiciating a direct terrorist attack. This opinion was confirmed by subsequent investigations into the accident.
Trains in the Jaunpur area are frequently targeted by terrorists, such as the 2005 Jaunpur train bombing, and one of the most effective ways to derail a train surrepticiously is through the removal of fishplates before the train passes by, as in the Rafiganj rail disaster. Railway officials suggested that the sabotage was conducted by the Student's Islamic Movement of India, but several other Islamic extremist organisations have been known to operate in the state as well (see Terrorism in India).