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Rajdhani close shave in Red land

Gaya/Patna, July 23: Passengers of the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani bound for New Delhi had a narrow escape when an advance pilot engine detected a damaged stretch of railway tracks in Maoist-affected Aurangabad district late last night, the site barely a few kilometres from a bridge where the showpiece train met with its worst accident 12 years ago.

Around 11.15pm on Tuesday, the pilot engine — which scouts for any track damage in Maoist hotbeds — derailed near Amamsimwa village, between Ismailpur and Rafiganj railway stations, in Aurangabad district, around 120km south of Patna.

This is the second time in a month that passengers travelling by the elite Rajdhani had to suffer. Four persons were killed when the Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani derailed near Goldenganj in Saran district on June 25.

Tuesday night’s blast site is around 7km from Dhaba bridge, from which the Howrah Rajdhani had careened off and plunged into a river on the night of September 10, 2002, leaving over 130 passengers dead. The accident was the result of the tracks being damaged by Maoists who had called a bandh in the region.

Yesterday as well, the Naxalites had called for a 24-hour bandh in protest against the death of two persons in police firing at Madanpur in Aurangabad district on July 19.

The driver of the advance pilot engine, Ghulam Sah, noticed the damaged tracks after his engine derailed. He immediately sounded an alert over walkie-talkie as the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani was minutes away from crossing the spot. The train was halted at Guraru, a station around 14km from the site of the explosion.

Superintendent of railway police (Patna) Upendra Kumar Sinha said the Maoists triggered the blast around 10.45pm at Amamsimwa, 36km west of Gaya. “An advance pilot engine was run as a precautionary measure in the wake of the bandh call given by the Naxalites,” he said.

Chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi blamed the Maoists for the track damage. “Prima facie it appears to be the handiwork of the Maoists. But a detailed report is still awaited,” he told reporters in Patna.

Police sources said the target of the Maoists was the Howrah Rajdhani, which crosses the area around 11pm. Yesterday, however, the train was running behind schedule by around 50 minutes and reached Gaya at 11.25pm.

Even the Sealdah Rajdhani was running late by 45 minutes and crossed Gaya at 11.37pm. The Bhubaneswar Rajdhani, on the other hand, was just four minutes behind time and reached Gaya at 11.12pm. It would have crossed the explosion site around 11.30pm.

Following the alert, the train was stopped at Guraru station. The Howrah Rajdhani was halted at Paraiya, the station preceding Guraru, and the Sealdah Rajdhani was stopped at Gaya. “All three showpiece trains cross Gaya within 30 minutes of each other,” said superintendent of railway police (Patna) Upendra Kumar Sinha.

“The blast was so powerful that it created a crater 4 feet deep,” said deputy inspector-general (Magadh range) P.K. Srivastava. Around 200 metres of overhead electric wires were also damaged in the explosion, the impact of which was felt over a 2km radius. Train movement was disrupted for about seven hours.

Passengers of the Jodhpur-Howrah Express had to spend a restless night as the train remained stranded between Ismailpur and Rafiganj railway stations owing to the overhead electric wire damage.

Vineet Kumar, a doctor travelling on the train, said he heard the sound of an explosion, after which most passengers hid under the seats.

“Darkness had enveloped the area. There was no power in any of the compartments of the train. The passengers were left to fend for themselves,” Vineet said. The train resumed its journey around 6.20 this morning.


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