|An overturned coach of the Sabarmati Express (top) and rescue workers take away an injured passenger. (AFP and PTI)
Samlaya (Vadodara), April 21: Sujit Kumar was fast asleep when the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express slammed into a stationary goods train.
The 26-year-old was flung off his berth as the speeding train shuddered to a stop.
The impact of the collision threw Pyarelal Meena, the guard sitting in the last bogie of the goods train, 20 feet away. He was lucky. Like Kumar, the 39-year-old survived with a shoulder injury.
But not all were as fortunate. At least 17 people died and 120 were injured, 50 seriously, after the early-morning crash that left the engine of the speeding train and two compartments virtually on top of the goods train. The railways put the toll at 15.
The goods train had halted at Samlaya, 27 km from Vadodara, as the Sabarmati Express from Varanasi was to overtake it.
'Nearly 30 minutes after the goods train stopped on the loop line, the Sabarmati Express collided with the stationary train. After spotting the goods train, the driver did try to brake but it was too late. The express was running at 100 km per hour,' said Meena as he lay in a hospital bed in Vadodara.
Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, who rushed to the spot, said either signal failure or human error could be the cause of the accident, which occurred at 3.13 am. He has ordered an inquiry.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi also visited the site.
The railways have announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to relatives of the dead, Rs 15,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 5,000 for those with minor bruises.
Local villagers were the first to the rescue. 'It was pitch dark and we had great difficulty in rescuing the trapped passengers. Everyone was crying for help,' said sarpanch Narendra Pandya.
While Pandya asked all vehicle owners in the village to switch on the headlights, others informed the district authorities and police. By the time official help arrived, the villagers had started taking the injured to hospitals. By 8 am, more than 35 ambulances had arrived.
Trapped inside a mangled coach, 61-year-old Shamsher Bahadur's legs had to be amputated. The Ahmedabad resident was taken to the civil hospital in Vadodara but did not survive.
'I heard people shouting and I rushed out, but my uncle was sleeping on a top berth. I couldn't get him out,' said Jayanti Devi Parmar, a 32-year-old woman who escaped with minor injuries.
Liyakat Ali, 38, a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, has survived. But Ali, a tailor, may not be able to work any more. Both his shoulders have been dislocated. The only earning member in his family, his wife does not know how she would feed her six children.
Dr Mukesh Brahmbhat, chief casualty medical officer, said 12 bodies have been identified.