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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 24 July 2024

'Nothing but empty promises': One year after Balasore train tragedy, no footbridge yet

The train mishap at Bahanaga in Odisha involved the Chennai-bound Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, the Bangalore-Howrah Superfast Express and a goods train

Subhashish Mohanty Bahanaga (Balasore) Published 03.06.24, 07:56 AM
The new station building being constructed at Bahanaga.

The new station building being constructed at Bahanaga. Pictures by Subhashish Mohanty

Surendra Kumar Das, a small-time businessman, is quite upset with the ministry of railways as it has failed to construct a foot overbridge at Bahanaga in Balasore district where a gruesome accident occur-red on June 2, 2023, killing 296 people.

“One year has passed since the accident, but our demand for a footbridge to ease the crossing of the main railway line has not been addressed. Instead of addressing our needs, the railway has begun constructing a new station, adding to their properties. We’ve been given nothing but empty promises,” laments Das, aged 58, reflecting the deep-rooted frustration of the people of the area. Das has a small shop only 50 metres from Bahanaga station.

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Surendra Kumar Das

Surendra Kumar Das

The train mishap at Bahanaga involved the Chennai-bound Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, the Bangalore-Howrah Superfast Express and a goods train. The Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express hit the stationary goods train after entering the loop track. Its derailed carriages crashed into the two rear bogies of the Bangalore-Howrah Superfast Express.

“Hundreds of people are crossing the rail line on a busy route. A footbridge would help the people a lot. After the rail accident many officials, including railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, visited the site. But no visible change has been noticed. What is more important is that the railway had promised to build a footbridge. As time passes, the ministry also forgets,” said another local, Gaya Dhar Mallick, aged 59.

The anger against the railway ministry is quite visible. “We urgently need a road parallel to the railway track from the north cabin to the south cabin up to Ashimula, a distance of five kilometres. The existing road becomes impassable during the rain, making it almost impossible to travel. But what has been done? The situation remains unchanged,” said Mallick, urging immediate action.

Gaya Dhar Mallick

Gaya Dhar Mallick

Another small-time businessman, Ganesh Chandra Jena, aged 61, said, “The election was over and no one would visit our areas. We will no more be able to raise our demands.”

On the other hand, sources in the railway said many projects have been sanctioned and will be completed soon.

A visit to the Bahanaga railway site reveals that a third railway line is being constructed. A new station is coming up, and the building is under construction. A third railway track is also underway. The mangled coaches and debris have been cleared. The station manager was busy signalling the train to change the track. “It’s quite unfortunate. We pray no such thing happens again,” said one of the railway staff, adding that some staff members were still in custody for their dereliction of duties that day.

Mandakini Panda, who alighted from a train at Bahanaga with her 15-year-old son and was waiting for her relatives, said, “Whenever I come here, the horrifying scene of the accident flashes across my mind. But we have to move on in life.”

Mandakini Panda with her 15-year-old son at Bahanaga station

Mandakini Panda with her 15-year-old son at Bahanaga station

People came out and narrated how the crash site still haunted them. “Many things have changed over the last year. When the train chugs on the track, the memory becomes alive again. We always pray that such things don’t happen again,” Padmanabha Ra, another resident of Bahanaga said.

After the accident, as many as 193 bodies were brought from the accident site and sent to hospitals for postmortem. Of the 193 bodies, 165 were handed over to relatives, and the government agencies disposed of the rest.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has asked the state and the centre to submit detailed compliance reports on the accident.

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