The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani derails Nitish theory

New Delhi, Sept. 11: Nitish Kumar’s missing-fishplates theory is fast being buried. First, L.K. Advani does not like it; and second, rail officials feel that heavy rain could have eroded the soil and stone chips below the track and damaged them.

Advani today stepped in to end speculation on the cause of Monday night’s Rajdhani crash, directing rail minister Kumar to hold his comments till the commissioner of railway safety gives his report. The report is expected within 90 days.

Following the directive, Rail Bhavan clammed up, but officials who visited the accident site said: “Rains had lashed the area a few days ago. At a few places, the rains had eroded the soil under the rails and the fish plates could consequently have been displaced when the goods train had passed.”

According to the standard operating procedure (SOP) followed by the railway, special checks are made on bridges between June and September (rainy season) and tracks inspected up to 50 metres on either side. The scheduled check of the bridge over the river Dhawi was not carried out.

M.S. Ekbote, additional member, civil engineering, Railway Board — who was present at a news conference held by Kumar — conceded that the tracks had not been inspected after a goods train ran passed over them minutes before the Rajdhani.

“The staff was supposed to undertake the check but had not reached the site. However, that cannot be the reason (for the accident),” he said.

Ekbote also admitted that “the monsoon inspection was not undertaken on all bridges, only on a few bridges that are flood-prone, where station staff monitor the rise and fall of rain water. On other tracks, we undertake regular checks.”

Railway Board chairman I.I.M.S. Rana had said yesterday that prima facie the crash looked like sabotage since fishplates were found removed.

Kumar today retorted angrily when asked if railway staff could have planted broken fishplates. “If such a thing has been done, then the railway should be closed down.” He also warned that heads would roll if the commissioner’s safety report found rail staff at fault.

Ashok Bhatnagar, former chairman of the Railway Board, said: “It is difficult to accept that there were no gangmen in that area. Normally during the monsoon season (June-September), we deploy special staff (gangmen assisted by engineers) to watch over embankments. Sometimes, rainwater goes up suddenly on to tracks and that can be dangerous.”

He added: “Even if an argument is accepted that fishplates were removed at about 30 metres from the bridge, and it takes only 20 minutes to remove the rail or fishplates as has been claimed, then where were the gangmen' In Andhra Pradesh, they are threatened by the People’s War Group and the staff run away from the scene. Did they run away here' There are several questions that will have to be answered.”

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