Malda, Oct. 24: Two passenger trains coming from opposite directions stopped a few metres short of each other on the same track at Bhaluka Road railway station in Malda late tonight.
The trains were carrying at least a thousand passengers.
The north-bound Trivandrum-Guwahati Express and the Sealdah-bound Teesta Torsa Express stopped after entering platform No. 1 at Bhaluka Road around 9.30 pm as the desperate motormen braked to a halt before jumping off their cabins in panic.
Only a few weeks ago, the Rajdhani Express had derailed in Bihar, killing over 100 people.
Railway officials said, prima facie, the near-collision looked like the result of a “signalling failure”.
The motormen should share the credit with the station master of Bhaluka Road for averting a major disaster, the officials added. The Bhaluka Road station master first detected the signalling failure and alerted the motormen.
The Guwahati-bound train was scheduled to touch platform No. 2 around the same time that the train heading for Sealdah was slated to enter platform No. 1 of the station, about 40 km north of Malda town in Harishchandrapur. The area falls within the jurisdiction of the Northeastern Frontier Railway.
Accordingly, signals were transmitted to the tracks, officials said. But they could not explain what caused the error that led the motormen of both trains to choose the track that led to platform No. 1.
A few minutes before the trains were scheduled to enter the station, the station master realised that something had gone horribly wrong.
He immediately got in touch with the motormen over walkie-talkie sets. It was not a moment too soon as they got the message when they had already passed the changeover point and were hurtling towards the same platform from opposite directions.
Despite the motormen applying the brakes as soon as they got the disaster message, the trains stopped only a few metres short of each other.
Panic-stricken passengers, according to railway officials, called it “hand-shaking” distance. But it was not the passengers alone who panicked. The motormen — after a job well done — jumped off the trains.
The Teesta-Torsa Express later backed out of the platform and resumed its journey. The same train had derailed just over a month ago, 10 days after the Rajdhani accident.
Railway officials concede that the signalling system employed for about 90 per cent of running track cannot give an indication of what is happening to a train when it has left a station and is yet to arrive at the next.