The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Destination Delhi, with a prayer on their lips

The scene was the same, but the sentiment was not.

On the surface, there was nothing wrong with platform no. 8 — the scheduled stop from where Rajdhani Express leaves for New Delhi on Tuesdays. A crowded platform and busy railway staff — it seemed like just any other day at Howrah station. But it was not. For, 510 km from where Monday’s Rajdhani had left, a tale of death had unfolded.

At 5 pm — exactly 24 hours after the 2301 Up Rajdhani Express had left for Delhi, only to run into tragedy five hours and 43 minutes into the journey — relatives were seeing off their loved ones with more than a touch of trepidation.

Friends and family stood silently, with folded hands, praying for a safe journey, as the red-and-cream train pulled slowly out of Howrah for Delhi.

Shampa Chatterjee, a teacher from Howrah, looked nervous. Her voice cracked and tears rolled down her face. “My two relatives, Somark Ray and Jyotiprakash Ray, are travelling in coach AS-5. I can only pray for their safe journey,” she said.

“God has saved my relatives. I cannot imagine what would have happened if they were booked on Monday’s Rajdhani. The anxious faces of parents and crying family members made me so nervous,” she added.

Newsreader G.C. Das of All India Radio, Delhi, was travelling by coach AS-6. “I cannot deny that this journey is unlike my previous ones. It is really tough to travel on the same route in a similar train within 24 hours of a mishap. I think most passengers will not be able to sleep tonight,” said Das. “Despite all this, I boarded the Rajdhani because I have urgent work in Delhi on Thursday.”

Ritu Lakhani had come to see-off her friend, who works for a Delhi-based private firm. “It was not possible for him to go to Delhi by air. He has promised to call me up as soon as he reaches Delhi,” she said.

Railway sources said at least 117 passengers had cancelled their Rajdhani tickets on Tuesday. “The accident might have made them cancel their bookings,” said an official, on condition of anonymity. “It will take a few more days for things to return to normal.”

Divisional railway manager Swapan Kumar Chowdhury said he was not aware of the cancellation spree. “I have not received the list of passengers who have cancelled their bookings. So, I cannot explain what exactly led them to cancel their tickets,” added Chowdhury.

For those who did take the train, though, it would be a long day’s journey into the night.

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