Rows of ambulances, every kind of first-aid equipment, doctors and nurses, friends and family… All ready and waiting at Howrah station for the first train from the accident site in Bihar, late on Tuesday. What was not in readiness, on platform no. 8, was the arrangement to cordon off the first-aid booth from the political activists, the media and the bystanders. As a result, doctors were forced to send the 14 injured who arrived from Rafiganj to hospitals or homes in ambulances, without being able to attend to them.
Around midnight, Howrah station resembled rush hour. Crowds of curious people, contingents of state and railway policemen, newspersons and volunteers of at least three political parties mingled with those waiting to take the wounded home or to hospital. “Your attention, please,” blared the PA system. “The special train carrying passengers from the Rajdhani accident site is scheduled to arrive at 1.20 am.” The announcement sparked a commotion at the station-master’s office, with family members protesting the delay and the lack of information.
“We have a list of 41 passengers returning on the train from Gaya, of whom 14 have suffered slightly serious injuries,” said M.D. Patra, senior divisional medical officer based at the Howrah railway orthopaedic hospital. Three other railway doctors, including orthopaedic surgeon K.D. Chakraborty, were waiting at the station.
“Once the injured arrive, we will examine them and, depending on their choice, send them to hospitals or their homes. The more serious cases have been admitted to hospitals in Gaya and Aurangabad,” said S. Mukherjee, assistant divisional railway manager, Eastern Railway.
The special relief train finally rolled in at 2.02 am, to a deathly silence. Then, there was chaos. The ropes proved futile as barricades as the crowd surged forward. All plans of on-the-spot treatment abandoned, the police escorted the wounded to the first-aid booth.
Among those who lived to tell the tale of horror was P.K. Pakrasi, from AS-6. He was on the lower berth and preparing to go to sleep when he felt a “violent jarring movement, followed by a loud bang and a screech”.
As the bogie was torn off the tracks, Pakrasi was thrown off his feet and the compartment was plunged into darkness. “We did not realise we were on the bridge… A co-passenger used something to break open a window, through which we wriggled out.”
J.B. Chatterjee of AS-5 had his head swathed in bandages, his shirt smeared with blood. “All I want is to go home,” he said, managing a wane smile.