Accelerated: A busy Tatanagar station on Wednesday. Picture by Animesh Sengupta
Two and a half years after the Jnaneswari Express tragedy, superfast trains will once again ply at their normal speed between Kharagpur and Rourkela on the Howrah-Mumbai mainline at night, bringing down travelling time by 45 minutes on the stretch.
After the rebel sabotage of May 28, 2010 left 150 passengers of Jnaneshwari Express dead near Jhargram in Bengal, the railway authorities banned night movement of passenger trains on the 280km Kharagpur-Rourkela section. The ban was lifted in phases and night movement of all passenger trains restarted in January 2012 but with a rider — superfast trains had to adhere to a 75kmph speed limit instead of their normal speed of 110-120kmph.
Speaking to The Telegraph on Wednesday, superintendent of railway police (Tatanagar) Mritunjay Ranjan said the speed of the trains will first be increased to 90kmph in the first phase, and then to 110-120kmph in the second phase. The first phase will take effect in a month’s time.
Ranjan said he had received a letter to this effect from the South Eastern Railway authorities recently and had been asked to comment on track security. He sent his response on Thursday.
“We studied the pros and cons and submitted our response. The speed limit of trains is being increased in the backdrop of an improvement in the Naxalite situation on this stretch,” he said.
He added that he had requested the railway authorities to ensure that the tracks on the stretch were in proper condition.
“Sometimes, villagers collect the stone chips that hold the tracks together to sell them. With the tracks weakened, an accident is a very real possibility and then it would be called sabotage,” Ranjan said.
The Naxalite strongholds on the stretch in Jharkhand are the Ghatshila-Chakulia-Dalbhumgarh zone in Ghatshila subdivision of East Singhbhum district, and Chakradharpur-Manoharpur-Posaita section in West Singhbhum district.
About a half-a-dozen superfast trains cross Jharkhand on the Howrah-Mumbai main line at night.
The trains include the Howrah-Pune Azad Hind Express, Mumbai Mail, Howrah-LTT Jnaneswari Express and New Delhi-Puri Purushottam Express.
Senior divisional commercial manager of Chakradharpur K.N Biswas, who is also the railway spokesperson, confirmed the decision to increase the speed of super fast trains on the stretch.
“Steps have been taken to restore normal speed of superfast trains travelling on the Howrah-Mumbai route. Nod of the SRPs of concerned railway areas is required for withdrawing the speed limit restrictions,” he said.