Hyderabad, Oct. 30: The front two wheels had fallen off, the coach was swaying dangerously, and yet the superfast train from Howrah hurtled at 100 km an hour towards a rail bridge.
For two minutes today, coach S-11 of the Falaknuma Express was a chaos of screaming passengers scrambling for the vestibules as its rear wheels somehow kept their precarious grip on the tracks.
The train’s freak run on the verge of derailment ended when the driver scented something was amiss and brought it to a halt.
It was S-11’s position in the middle of the train that averted a derailment and a possible disaster, said railway divisional security commissioner Sadanzeb Khan. “For almost 3 km, the coach was dragged with the train.”
By the time the Secunderabad-bound express had stopped — 15 km from Siripuram and some 250 km from its destination — S-11 was yards from climbing on to a bridge that some of the front compartments had already crossed.
“I dread to imagine what would have happened if the coach, which was lurching from side to side, had hit the bridge’s railings at 100 km an hour,” a railway official said.
“We were screaming. Luckily there were no heart patients or pregnant women in our coach,” said Niraj Roy, an NTPC executive from Ramagundam. “Most of us rushed into the adjacent compartments.”
In those two coaches, the passengers were equally scared that if S-11 jumped off the tracks, it might drag the other bogies with it.
“I was frightened to death as our compartment was also swaying,” said Suprita Bannerji, a housewife who was on S-10. In the panic, no one thought of pulling the chain.
A South Central Railway official said there were about 65 passengers in the coach besides an unknown number of local commuters. Some 19 passengers who received minor injuries were treated at the Nalgonda government hospital and discharged. Another eight were admitted to the railway hospital in Hyderabad for detailed check-ups and X-rays.
An engine sent from Hyderabad brought the front coaches of the Falaknuma to Secunderabad. The rear part was taken to Vijayawada to be sent to Hyderabad on a different route.
“It took us just two hours to put the derailed compartment back on the track and restore traffic,” a railway spokesman said. Traffic on the route was disrupted for over four hours.
The close shave comes a day after the first anniversary of a train disaster in the state. On October 29 last year, 114 people were killed in Gollapalli, 30 km from Hyderabad, as the Secunderabad-bound Delta Express, travelling in pre-dawn darkness, plunged into a river whose bridge had been washed away by flood waters.
“We are happy that nothing like that happened today. The weather was almost the same as last year: there was a heavy downpour that had swollen the streams and floodwater tanks,” a railway spokesman said.
South Central Railway seems to have luck on its side. Last week the rear portion of the Delhi-bound AP Express got detached from the front coaches in thick jungles near Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh.
The driver woke up to the mishap only an hour and 100 km later. Some 600 passengers spent a terrifying night in the pitch-dark forest.