The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terrible track record spills out

Mahipal Road, Sept. 20: The derailment of the Sealdah-bound Teesta-Torsa Express late last night has jolted its driver more than any of its passengers.

“We put our lives on the line every day running these trains. The speeding trains lurch from side to side as if they were boats. The tracks are simply terrible,’’ Prabir Das, the shaken driver, blurted out at the accident site.

Only an engine driver can tell the difference between “strong and weak’’ tracks.

“If the railroad tracks are strong enough, the trains passing on them will bounce. But if they are weak or unstable, the trains will lurch and this is what happens while we run the trains on these tracks,’’ Das said, his tired face lit by the first light of dawn.

Six coaches of the train, carrying more than 600 passengers, slipped off the tracks near Mahipal Road station just before midnight on Thursday. Most passengers, fast asleep in their berths, escaped unhurt, as the train was running slow.

Das has hauled carriages overflowing with passengers down the shaky tracks for ages. But he was never as shaken as he was today.

He said he had tried his best to keep the train on the tracks, but without success.

“I did everything possible, slammed the brakes. But nothing worked,’’ he said. The driver said the tracks had become wobbly in the Barharwa-Azimganj section of Eastern Railway in the last six months, weakened by the torrential monsoon rains.

Das said he had informed his superiors of the precarious condition of the tracks. “I had also warned the stations along the way, but unfortunately, very little could be done.’’

This is all the railwayman who has piloted long-distance trains down the line week after week had to say. But then, this is not the “official version’’. Actually, there is no official explanation for the derailment.

Malda divisional railway manager Vijay Kumar Manglik, who reached the site with other railway officials and reporters on a relief train, said there was nothing wrong with the tracks. But at the same time, he would not say what had gone wrong.

“The railway safety commissioner will conduct an inquiry, which is mandatory. Nothing can be said about the reason for the derailment till the inquiry is complete,’’ the divisional boss said. Though the site was barely 11 km from the Azimganj junction, passengers had to wait close to five hours for help to arrive. The first relief train from Malda got there around 4 in the morning.

“The railway has not woken up even after the Rajdhani Express disaster. Otherwise, this accident would not have taken place at all,’’ Meena Mukherjee, who was travelling with her mother, fumed.

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Amit Das, on his way to Calcutta for a job interview, said there was no light and water on the train. “We had virtually huddled together in the dark for more than four hours for help.’’

The passengers were, however, all praise for the Murshidabad district magistrate and superintendent of police, who had arrived on the scene within an hour of the accident.

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