Patna, Aug. 19: The loco pilot behind the dead man’s handle on the Rajya Rani Express had to fight twin tragedies this morning.
No sooner had scores of people had come under the wheels of the Patna-bound train than the diesel loco pilot, Raja Ram Paswan, was pulled out of his cabin and thrashed mercilessly.
For Paswan and his assistant S.K. Suman, the 32km journey from Saharsa was without a hitch. Cruising at a steady 80km per hour, the 12567 Rajya Rani Express — one of its kind in Bihar — was to pass Dhamara Ghat in a few minutes when they noticed people on the through line at the station around 8.40am.
Two passenger trains — 55566 Samastipur-Saharsa Passenger and 55533 Dauram Madhepura-Samastipur Passenger — had reached Dhamara Ghat station at 8.36am and 8.35am, respectively. Passengers from the two trains were rushing to offer puja to the Goddess Kattyani at a temple near Dhamara Ghat station crossing the through tracks.
They pressed the horn but to no avail. Slamming the brakes was the only option. But at least 28 people were dead and dragged away for 400 metres when the train, which had started 45 minutes behind its scheduled departure of 7am from Saharsa, came to a screeching halt.
“Prima facie, it appears to be no fault of the driver or his assistant because they were running the train at a stipulated speed. Moreover, the visibility was quite clear and anyone could have seen the express on the tracks,” a senior East Central Railway (ECR) official camping at the site, around 200km east of Patna, told The Telegraph over phone.
He said had the drivers not applied brakes, the magnitude of the accident could be more devastating. “Strangely, instead of praising the drivers, the villagers started beating them up,” the official said, adding that the train had no RPF or GRP personnel on board because it was a daytime express.
An eyewitness, requesting anonymity, said several people boarded the diesel locomotive as soon as the train stopped. “They were thrashing the duo mercilessly and I immediately walked away from the site fearing more trouble,” he said.
The version of this eyewitness appears correct as the ECR official said both the drivers had suffered serious injuries and were being treated with whatever facilities was available there. “We are keeping them under proper security as more attacks cannot be ruled out,” added the official.
The official, however, maintained that anything final about the role of drivers and the cause behind the accident would be known only after a detailed inquiry.
In New Delhi, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the minister of state for railways, said although relief trains carrying doctors and nurses were sent from Saharsha and Barauni, they could not reach the spot immediately as the law and order situation there was not conducive because of protests by angry people.
The ECR official said the railway staff who were taken hostage by the villagers were released later.
“However, railway property worth crores have been vandalised and at least 20 coaches of three trains have been set on fire with the diesel engine of the Rajya Rani Express,” he said.
The ECR has also launched a massive relief operation to help those who had been injured in the accident. Three teams, consisting of doctors and paramedics, have been pressed into service. Six injured persons, whose condition is said to be serious, have been admitted to Khagaria Sadar hospital.