Passengers on the New Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express arrive at Guwahati railway station on Thursday. (PTI)
Chhapra, June 26: The driver of Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani Express today denied hearing sound of any explosion before the derailment of 11 coaches and the engine of the showpiece train, virtually ruling out any sabotage and hinting at negligence in maintenance of tracks on the part of the railways.
Sukhdev Mahto, the driver of the ill-fated train, told The Telegraph, “I heard no explosion. All I heard was a rattling sound below the engine and so I applied the brakes.”
He said: “Diesel engines take time to pick up speed. The train was running at a speed of about 60-65km per hour before the mishap. Suddenly, I felt the train was dragging and then it started slowing down,” he said, adding that he informed railway officials about the derailment within two minutes.
A source in the railways claimed that Mahto had told a senior Government Railway Police (GRP) official at the spot that the derailment occurred because of some technical fault in the tracks. “Had it not been the case, the engine of the train would have been badly affected,” the officer quoted the driver as saying.
Rajendra Ram, the sub-divisional police officer of Sonepur government railway sub-division, travelling on the ill-fated train was the first person to approach Mahto after the accident near Bishunpura village between Chhapra Kacheri and Goldenganj stations under Sonepur division of the East Central Railway in Saran district around 2am on Wednesday. “The driver standing beside the engine admitted that the tracks had developed cracks at different points. He was handed over a ‘caution order’ at Chhapra, asking him to run the train at a particular speed. The ‘caution order’ is issued only when the tracks are not found to be fit for running the trains in full speed,” Ram said, quoting Mahto, the driver of the train.
Investigations carried out by the six-member special investigation team (SIT) headed by Saran additional superintendent of police Sushil Kumar revealed that no evidence of damage to the tracks was found. Separate teams of the forensic experts and the bomb disposal squad were pressed into service to gather proof from the derailment site. Preliminary report of the forensic experts ruled out the use of any explosive substance to cause damage to the tracks.
Refuting the claims of the railway officials that the fishplates were opened at 25 points, a member of the SIT said the gateman deployed at the nearby railway crossing did not notice any damage caused to the tracks before the accident. Moreover, a train had passed through the same tracks about 45 minutes before the derailment of the Rajdhani Express.
An FIR was lodged with the Mufassil police station of Saran district on the statement of the gateman, Arun Kumar Shukla, who was on duty at the Bishunpura railway crossing, hardly 100m away from the derailment site. “The statement of the gateman has been videographed,” another investigating officer said.
The SIT, which was constituted by the district police to probe the derailment, has urged the railway authorities to present the driver before the team for recording his statement. It would also interrogate the permanent way inspector (PWI), responsible for the upkeep of the tracks.
The chief commissioner of safety (railways), eastern circle, P.K. Vajpai, would conduct an inquiry on June 28 and July 1.
What has sent the railway authorities into a tizzy is a warning issued by the RPF and the Saran district police about the possible subversive activities of the Maoists in the wake of their 48-hour Tirhut bandh beginning Tuesday midnight. Director-general of Railway Protection Force Krishna Choudhary told The Telegraph from Delhi that an alert was sounded in the wake of the Maoist bandh call in Saran and Muzaffarpur.
Saran superintendent of police Sudhir Kumar said a letter was dispatched to the Sonepur divisional railway manager (DRM) and other officials on June 22 in the wake of the bandh called by the Maoists. The DRM, Rajesh Tiwary, however, denied having received any such letter.