A crane hoicks up a coach during rescue operations at the site of the train accident near Mathura on Wednesday. (PTI)
Oct. 21: An express train bound for Delhi apparently overshot a signal and rammed into another that had halted after the emergency chain was pulled, killing at least 23 people in the first major train accident under Mamata Banerjee and raising fresh questions about safety which she has been harping on.
The accident occurred around 4.30 in the morning when the Goa Express crashed into the rear carriage of the stationary Mewar Express between Mathura and Vrindavan, around 133km from Hazrat Nizamuddin station in New Delhi where both trains were headed.
Two rear coaches — the brake-van and an unreserved coach-cum-luggage rake — of the Mewar Express, which had started from Udaipur, were flung off the tracks.
The guard, travelling in the brake-van, was killed, as were two staff members of the pantry car of the Goa Express. But it was the unreserved coach of the stationary train, packed with men, women and several children, which bore the brunt of the collision. The engine of the Goa Express tore through the brake-van and struck the bogie, crushing to death at least 20 passengers, among them six children.
Twenty-seven injured persons were rescued from the badly mangled bogie. They were sent to hospitals in Mathura and Agra while those suffering from trauma were shifted to AIIMS in Delhi. The condition of six of the injured is said to be critical.
The toll could have been higher but the luggage section probably prevented heavier casualties. Both trains were packed with people returning from Diwali vacation.
Railway minister Mamata, who has promised a higher standard of safety and security, has ordered an inquiry. According to a preliminary report, there was an incident of chain-pulling. It is being investigated whether this caused the accident, she said in Calcutta.
P.K. Vajpayee, the director-general (safety), north-eastern circle, will head the investigations.
Divisional railway manager, Agra, R.D. Tripathi, said a preliminary probe suggested that the driver of the Goa Express, R.K. Chaturvedi, was responsible for the mishap.
The driver of the Goa Express appears to have disregarded the signal, he told reporters in Mathura.
There could be two possibilities: the driver did not stop the train at the signal and overshot the required distance between the two trains or he did not proceed at a cautious speed as required when he saw no signal, Tripathi said.
Chaturvedi has 20 years of experience as a driver and was described by railway officials as one with an excellent track record. He, along with his assistant, Laxmikant, has been taken off duty.
The collision took place despite an automatic block signalling system being in place at a stretch regarded as super-sensitive because of its proximity to the countrys capital. The system does not allow a train to run on a track where another has halted.
The Mewar Express had been standing for about eight minutes when it was hit.
Under the system, a track circuiting is in operation, which means that once a train halts mid-section, the signal goes red, explained an official.
The official, a member of the Railway Safety Commission, ruled out the possibility of a signal failure. Signals in an automatic block signalling system cannot fail. If at all it fails, it will automatically turn red. No train can enter the blocked section, he asserted.
Survivors of the crash complained that rescue work started well over an hour after the accident.
Saurabh Pathak, one of the passengers on the Mewar Express, said the shock was first felt at 4.50am. We requested for help. But not a single policeman was seen at the site of the accident till 6am, he said after reaching Nizamuddin around 1.50pm, seven hours behind schedule.
Mamata, who is expected to reach Mathura later this evening, announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the families of those killed and Rs 1 lakh to the seriously injured. The Uttar Pradesh government will give Rs 10 lakh and a job to the families of those killed.