|Rescue workers at the Rajdhani derailment site near Gaya on Tuesday. (PTI)
Patna/New Delhi, March 23: German technology introduced less than a year ago and an alert train driver saved the passengers of a Rajdhani Express derailed by Maoist sabotage of tracks in Bihar last night.
The Linke Hofmann Bush (LHB) coach technology cushioned the impact of derailment and its advanced brake system stopped the 10 runaway bogies quickly enough so they did not tip over, railway officials said.
Moments before the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani derailed around 11.40pm, driver R.K. Singh, driving slowly because the area near Gaya was a Maoist zone, had spotted a red flag and pulled the brakes. Although the train still passed over the 2.5-metre crater in the tracks — created by a blast —and jumped rails, the reduced speed averted tragedy.
The 526 passengers, none of whom suffered serious injuries, thanked the man more than the machine.
The driver saved us. He had the presence of mind to apply the brakes at the right time, said Harpreet Singh, a businessman.
Railway officials said all the trains 30 bogies were LHB coaches, made in India with imported German technology and attached to select Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.
The vertical and horizontal shock absorbers in the LHB coaches reduce the vibrations during accidents, a railway engineer said.
The disc-braking system of these coaches is far superior to the conventional thread-braking system and cuts the stopping distance drastically, another official said.
All this combined to avert a familiar feature of derailments — coaches toppled on their sides.
Also, the noise from accidents, which adds to passengers shock, is reduced to 60 decibels inside LHB coaches, lowering the probability of injuries, the engineer said. Inside a conventional coach, the sound would have been nearly 100 decibels.
Casualties would almost certainly have occurred had the coaches been conventional ones, the central public relations officer of East Central Railway, Dilip Kumar, told The Telegraph.
Driver Singh, praised by railway minister Mamata Banerjee, was modest.
People are thanking me for saving their lives by driving slowly but I was just following regulations. We had been instructed to drive at 70km per hour in Maoist areas and, given their strike call, I was extra careful, he said.
The railways have awarded Singh and co-driver A.K. Khalku Rs 30,000 each and the train superintendent and guard Rs 20,000 each, citing their utmost devotion to duty in the face of an adverse situation and the prompt help they provided the passengers.
The railways had imported about 20 LHB coaches from Germany and then begun manufacturing them at the coach factory in Kapurthala after technology transfer in 2007-08. The bogies began to be attached to trains only in mid-2009.
LHB coaches are lighter than conventional ones and so more of them can be attached to an engine. They can travel at 160-200km an hour compared with the 130km for conventional coaches.
Each LHB coach costs Rs 2 crore to build against Rs 83 lakh for a conventional coach, but has a longer life span of 35 years, 10 years longer than an ordinary bogies.
Passenger Gaurang Charan Behera said the derailment occurred just after the train had left Gaya station. Suddenly, we heard a loud thud and felt a jolt. The train came to a screeching halt and the power went off, he said.
When the passengers realised the train had jumped rails, they tried to rush out. But the security personnel did not allow us to come out, Behera said.
Two relief trains took the passengers to Mughalsarai, from where they were sent to Delhi on another train.
Bihar police chief Neelmani accused the Maoists of triggering the blast, which took place between the Kasta and Paraiya stations. The rebels had given a bandh call in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and western Bengal in protest against Operation Green Hunt.
The derailment led to the cancellation of two trains and the diversion of 17, including the New Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani. Train traffic returned to normal this evening after the tracks were repaired, officials said.
This is the second time the Maoists have targeted the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani in five months. On October 27, the rebels had stopped it near Jhargram in Bengal and abducted the drivers