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Head into tail, nightmare trains

Hyderabad, Jan. 3: The train, the station, the time and the blame were all the same — today and five years ago.

When the Manmad-bound 7064 Secunderabad-Manmad Express rammed into the rear of a goods train today, killing 14 people and injuring 53, it was a repeat of April 24, 1998. Agencies put the toll at 18.

Back then, a goods train had hit the same express in the rear at Ghatnandur station — the same as today — at 1.15 am, killing 24 people.

In Delhi, rail minister Nitish Kumar attributed the crash, prima facie, to “human failure” — the same as five years ago. A late night PTI report said five rail personnel had been suspended.

He said more casualties were averted as the express driver spotted the tail lamp of the goods train and slammed the emergency brakes. The three coaches just behind the engine jumped the tracks because of the impact.

The four coaches affected were three general and a three-tier air-conditioned coach, a South-Central Railway official said.

The injured, after preliminary first-aid, were rushed to Ambejogai Government Medical College, 18 km from Ghatnandur in Beed district. Medical teams, along with senior South-Central Railway officers, have rushed to the spot. Relief work is already on.

Junior rail minister Bandaru Dattatreya flew in from Delhi to catch the special train leaving for the accident site.

When the train was delayed, he went over to the swearing-in of S.S. Barnala as Andhra Pradesh Governor. Barnala, expected to take over on January 13, returned to Delhi in the afternoon.

Nitish promised action against railway officials if they were found responsible for the accident. A railway spokesperson said the minister has already started an inquiry.

According to Nitish, the accident occurred after the express was allowed on to the main track where the goods train was already waiting.

The assistant station manager and the pointsman, said to be responsible for wrong signalling, are now absconding.

Kumar announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the families of the deceased, Rs 15,000 to the seriously injured and Rs 5,000 to those with minor injuries.

The accident has occurred barely two weeks after another in the same region when the Hyderabad-Bangalore Express derailed near Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, killing nearly 30 people.

Today’s derailment is also the third in the last one week in the South-Central Railway zone.

The Secunderabad-Parli passenger train had derailed on New Year’s day, without any casualties. The same day, a goods train, too, jumped rails in the same railway zone.

According to senior railway ministry officials in Delhi, the personnel manning stations must undertake 10 checks. “On many occasions, they don’t complete these checks because of fatigue and the monotonous nature of the job,” an official said.

The checks are undertaken in two stages: first, by the local personnel and then, by the assistant station master. “In this case, the assistant station master apparently failed to crosscheck his subordinates’ inspection of the mechanical systems and signalling equipment,” the official said.

The ministry officials, however, said the “interim report” must come through first before conclusions are drawn.

The railway board, they said, has already examined the problem of human failure and set up a committee to suggest measures to deal with it.

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