Rajarshi Naha was watching a movie on his phone around 7pm on the upper tier of his AC 3-tier coach of the Bangalore-Howrah Superfast Express on Friday when there was a massive jolt.
“The train teetered but was not derailed. Things appeared to be getting hurled at our train,” said the resident of Bhubaneshwar who shuttles every week to be at his Kolkata home on the weekends. He runs a company that provides security services.
His wife Maitreyee was asleep in the facing berth.
“I woke up to the sound of a crash and people shouting: ‘Fire, fire’. The train jerked to a halt in a few moments.” she said.
In the coach behind them, the window pane had smashed leaving gashes on a few passengers.
“The stone chips heaped on the sides of railway tracks had got dislodged under the impact of the fallen compartment of the Coromandel Express and hit us like missiles,” Rajarshi said.
The Nahas were in the B1 compartment.
“Behind us were the two AC two-tier coaches, two general compartments, one parcel van and the guard room. The two bogies at the rear, including the guard’s, had got separated from the rest of the train and could not be seen,” Rajarshi said.
For the rest of their stay in the train, they did not see the traveling ticket examiner and the attendant. The vendor selling water bottles, too, could not be traced.
“The air-conditioner had stopped. The canteen tea hawker advised us not to keep more than one light on to preserve the emergency supply. When we asked for water he said the water salesman had dumped the crate of bottles in another bogey and was missing. He wondered if he was in the derailed compartment,” said Maitreyee.
Fear of water scarcity was looming. “A passenger came back from the next bogey and said a bloodied man there was pleading for water.”
Passengers sitting at the window said they had seen flames below and above the train on the adjacent track.
“Their high tension line had caught fire and soon their supply tripped, plunging them into darkness,” Rajarshi recalled.
He got off the train with others to reconnoitre.
“It was a moonlit night. We could see the lights at the rear of the Coromandel Express blinking from afar but there was no knowing in the dark what state the train was in,” he said. He walked along the path between the tracks in search of help as a friend in the railways had warned him that the emergency lights inside the train would not last long.
“According to Google, Balasore was 23km away. We needed to reach the highway first,” he said.
He found an autorickshaw who agreed to ferry them to the highway on hearing his wife had a spinal chord injury. Rajarshi convinced him to come near the train. “But he said he would stop at the engine as he would get mobbed if he got closer.”
Fellow passengers helped Maitreyee get off.
“We drove along a narrow path in the village to the highway. From there, we took a shuttle car to Balasore station,” Rajarshi said. They found the station teeming with accident victims.
“We met a group that had been on the Coromandel. One had broken an arm. The train attendant had tied it. They were on their way to the Balasore hospital. A young RPF woman constable was shivering and crying in shock. We could not make out which train she had been on,” Maitreyee said.
Hotels in Balasore were charging sky-high rates but the Nahas found shelter with the family of their son’s friend.
On Saturday morning, they booked a car to return to Kolkata. All along the way ambulances sped by wailing. One toll gate was left free for them at both Jaleshwar and Rampur toll plazas.
Their train would not have been affected by the accident had it not started late — at 3.50pm rather than at 12.25pm. But the Nahas would rather count their lucky stars that they escaped unscathed.