Rafiganj, Sept. 12: The 90-year-old bridge, off which Rajdhani Express crashed down dragging with it bogie after bogie and railway minister Nitish Kumar’s name, is being restored to enable trains to pass, at least, on the Up track.
Like their minister, who has taken shelter behind a curtain of silence after deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani derailed his sabotage theory, railway officials at the accident site refused to elaborate on the condition of the bridge. But they maintained it was not “tottering”.
“The brick pillars which support the girders do not show any crack. They got partially damaged. So there is nothing to worry. One side of the tracks, the Up line, could be restored tonight,” said K.K. Saxena, divisional railway manager, Mughal Sarai.
But it is unlikely to repair the damage done to Kumar’s name. He was on a high after his “triumph” over Mamata Banerjee in the East-Central railway zone row and the gifts he showered on his home state, including a dozen new trains on Bihar routes and renovation of Patna station. “He was riding high on the popularity chart in Bihar. But the Rajdhani Express accident ruined it with just one big blow,” said Lakhsmi Sahu, Janata Dal(U) spokesman.
Laloo Prasad Yadav, who till the other day was praising Kumar’s contribution to Bihar, is now demanding his resignation. “He should resign immediately,” he has said. Kumar’s bitter rival and former railway minister from Bihar Ram Vilas Paswan too has thrown in his lot with Laloo. Paswan told reporters yesterday at Bettiah that Kumar was in a hurry to prove himself as an alternative to Laloo. He should step down immediately for his cavalier handling of the railway’s fundamental problems.
Amid the political rhetoric, the glare has been on the bridge over the Dhawa river. Kumar’s rivals have clubbed it with 531 others that figured in the report of the Khanna Commission on railway safety set up by Kumar.
“A bridge like this was built in the pre-Indepencence era. Unfortunately, we are unable to maintain it now,” said Kauleswar Prasad, a district RJD leader in Aurangabad. His party chief has called it “weak and tottering”. Paswan claims the bridge is old and requires drastic repair. But railway officials believe otherwise. “Had it been weak, it would have developed cracks,” an official said today.
As political battle lines are drawn over the bridge, railway officials are racing to prove the politicians wrong. They are in a hurry to open the Up line to traffic. “This can prove a lot. At least, silence critics of the bridge,” said a senior engineer. His team has removed the crumpled coaches from the tracks and placed a heavy crane to test the strength of the pillars, but not before taking the precaution of installing “cribs” — huge iron jacks — next to them.
“We are testing the strength of the pillars. One non-AC coach weighs over 40 tonnes and the AC coaches 60 tonnes and even more,” said one official. If the pillars can withstand the weight of the crane, it can do the same for trains. But now, the railway authorities would have to put up a regulatory speed notice on the approach to the bridge.