Dhamara Ghat (Bihar), Aug. 19: An express train roaring down the tracks at 80kmph knocked dead 28 passengers who had walked into its path after getting off two other trains on either side here this morning.
As the Rajya Rani Express bore down on the victims without warning from the station, driver Raja Ram Paswan sounded the horn. But the crowd crossing the tracks either did not notice or, sandwiched between the two trains they had got off, had nowhere to escape.
By the time the brakes brought it to a halt, the Saharsa-Patna train had dragged the bodies of 13 women, 3 children and 12 men some 400 metres under its wheels in scenes that an eyewitness said “no human should ever have to see”. Of the 12 injured, six are said to be serious.
A local mob handed out immediate street justice, thrashing Paswan and assistant S.K. Suman mercilessly, torching the express and one of the other trains, and vandalising railway property, the violence delaying the arrival of relief trains till 7pm.
A Rail Bhavan official chose to describe the tragedy as an “incident” and not an “accident”, saying the victims had invited their deaths by “trespassing” on the tracks.
However, people in Dhamara Ghat, a backward area 181km east of Patna, said passengers were often forced to cross the tracks at the railway station because it has three lines but one platform.
Besides, they said, the commuters weren’t expecting the express train — it was to have passed by 45 minutes earlier but had got delayed, and the station’s public address system had remained silent as it came hurtling in at 8.40am.
Yet the passengers of the Samastipur-Saharsa Passenger did have a choice. When the packed train arrived at 8.36am on the station’s first line, most got off on the platform but some, looking to avoid the crush near the station-side doors, jumped on the tracks on the other side.
Those on the Dauram Madhepura-Samastipur Passenger, which had rolled in at 8.35, had no option — there was no platform for them to step onto. Every day, passengers of trains on the station’s third track have to cross the second and first line on foot.
Krishnadeo Yadav, 32, resident of a nearby village, said that even if the victims had had time to walk along the length of the train on the first line and reach either of its ends, they would still have been trapped when the express train arrived.
“They would not have escaped death because there are 20ft-deep ditches filled with water on both ends.”
The Telegraph noticed three warning messages near the station saying: “Travelling on the tracks is dangerous and a punishable offence.”
Rajya Rani passenger Ashish Choudhary, who works for a private firm in Delhi, said that after the train suddenly shuddered to a halt, a hail of stones hit the windows.
“Many even thought it was a Maoist attack. Women started screaming; children were pushed under the seats,” he said. When he stepped out later, he saw a gory sight that “will haunt me forever”.
Soon, a mob from nearby villages, armed with clubs, stones, farm tools and burning tyres, set fire to some 14 coaches of the Rajya Rani and seven of the Samastipur-Saharsa.
The train driver and helper, attacked by the mob, had suffered serious injuries, a railway official said. Most of the passengers were pilgrims and were headed for the Kattyani temple, 200m from the station, said Dayanand Yadav, 45, resident of the nearby Bangalia village. He had escaped death because he had yet to get off the Saharsa-Samastipur Passenger when the Rajya Rani arrived.
The temple draws the heaviest throngs on Mondays, especially in Shravan, and the passenger trains were crowded this morning because today was the last Monday of the holy month.
Dhamara Ghat is so backward that it has no motorable roads. The nearest police station is 8km away.
Several bodies packed in coffins lay at the station till 6pm. “It took us about three hours to reach the site; we had to walk several kilometres,” an officer said, adding that the relatives of the dead were yet to arrive. Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge has announced an inquiry and a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the dead.