The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Head into tail, courtesy rail

Chhapra, Nov. 5: Can one train ram into the behind of another'

Anything is possible in the Indian Railways.

Divine this scene: one train stops at a railway crossing because the guard thought something was wrong; another bears down on it from the back; only the lonesome gateman at the crossing realises what was going to happen; waving a red flag he runs down the track to warn the onrushing train; it doesn’t work; he clambers up a tree and waves the flag some more.

Welcome to the railways’ latest technological advancement: back to the trees. It still did not stop the Gwalior-Chhapra Express from hitting the Jansevak Express from behind. Railway minister Nitish Kumar is fortunate that a mayhem on the scale of the Rajdhani Express derailment, in which over a hundred people died, did not occur.

Still, one passenger was killed, four suffered grievous injuries, two lost a leg and 24 got away with minor injuries. Rudal Majhi was the gateman who played God for the passengers of the two overcrowded trains.

Kumar was not so lucky that all the accidents are taking place in his home state Bihar — Rajdhani at Rafigunj and today’s near the Riwaridhala crossing on the Sonepur-Gorakhpur section of Northeastern Railway between Kopa and Tekniwas stations, about 10 km from here.

The Jansevak Express, which runs between Amritsar and Barauni, halted for the guard to get off. “He was apparently told by the driver that a vacuum pipe which connects two compartments was missing,” said Kundan Krishnan, the superintendent of police, Chhapra. As this checking was going on while the guard went over all the coaches, the train from Gwalior hit a little after eight this morning.

Majhi, who knew the Gwalior train’s timing, had stepped in before that. “I saw the Gwalior train advancing menacingly from behind. I showed the red flag but it did not help. I got up a tree to hoist the flag so that the driver could see it and slow down,” said Majhi, a Dalit.

While doing this he fell on the track, hurting his leg. “How can I see the loss of railway property and men. So I got up and began to scream. The driver of the train suspected something wrong. He slowed down,” Mahji recalled.

The luggage van-cum-guard’s coach, which forms the tail of the train, was hit. The hit coach was torn asunder from the rest of the train and rolled off the track to plunge into a canal.

Six rail employees have been suspended: the assistant mechanical engineer (power) (Varanasi division), area officer, the loco inspector at Chhapra, and the driver, assistant driver and the guard of the Gwalior train.

A Northeastern Railway official said the Gwalior train’s driver may not have noticed the signal and overshot or there might have been a technical fault in flashing the signal.

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Majhi, who has become a hero, was on duty from 6 pm to 6 am, but his replacement did not arrive and he continued to man the post. At the end of the day, he had one “regret”. “We are not even given a phone.”

A phone would have helped today.

“The gateman has done his duty. He deserves praise. We will consider rewarding him after the probe is over,” Burma said.

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