Lucknow, May 31: Four people died after 11 bogies of the Howrah-Dehradun Doon Express jumped tracks in Uttar Pradesh this afternoon, with railway officials suspecting bandh-related “mischief” after the driver reported an “obstruction”.
Fifteen passengers on the train — popular with Bengal pilgrims headed for Haridwar, Rishikesh and Badrinath — were injured in the 1.30pm accident near Jaunpur’s Mehrava railway station, around 70km from Varanasi, a railway release said. Unofficial figures put the death toll at five.
The dead passengers had not been identified till late this evening. The injured, mostly from Bengal, had been admitted to hospitals in Jaunpur and nearby Shahganj. Many of the passengers were travelling to Uttarakhand on vacation.
The tragedy comes nine days after the Hampi Express rammed into a stationary goods train in Andhra, killing 16 passengers. In November, a blaze in an AC coach of the Doon Express had claimed seven lives.
Six sleeper coaches (S5, S6, S7, SE1, S8 and S9), three AC coaches (B1, B2 and A1) got derailed today along with two general compartments, the release said.
Railway officials said the driver claimed to have seen an “obstruction” on the tracks and slammed the brakes suddenly, causing the derailment. They did not rule out mischief in view of the Bharat bandh. “The nature of the obstruction will be known only after investigations,” a source said.
In Calcutta, Mamata Banerjee demanded an inquiry into whether the derailment was an “accident or an incident”. The former railway minister told reporters: “Since the accident has taken place during a countrywide bandh, we want this probed. Who has caused this mishap?”
She recalled the Jnaneswari disaster of May 2010 that killed over 140 passengers and was blamed on sabotage.
But Railway Board member A.P. Mishra suggested the derailment could have been caused by the bending of tracks from excessive heat.
“Initial reports have suggested some deformity in the tracks. There was some kind of obstruction on the tracks. The temperature is too much these days. Due to heat, the tracks expand. There are chances of buckling.”
Railway sources said poor tracks maintenance was to blame for “buckling” and “gauge spreading”, another summer problem where the distance between the rails increases beyond the prescribed 1.67 metres, causing a misalignment.
Railway minister Mukul Roy was expected to reach the spot tonight. He announced Rs 5 lakh for the family of each of the dead, Rs 1 lakh for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with simple injuries. “I have ordered a high-level inquiry to find out why accidents are happening repeatedly,” Roy said.
Sukumar Pramanik, a teacher from Shantinagar in North 24-Parganas, was on a lower berth when he suddenly felt a jerk. He said it seemed as if the train was rolling on stones. “The bogies turned to one side and then fell with a big thud,” Pramanik, who was going on a chardham yatra to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri with friends, said.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has announced free treatment for the injured and arranged for buses to ferry the stranded passengers.