A bone-rattling jerk and the train stopped.
Then, a wait in the dark for close to six hours in the middle of nowhere with a forest on one side and what looked like a highway far away.
Hundreds of passengers were lucky to have faced just this ordeal. Many that this newspaper spoke to said they could hardly believe they were alive.
Some of the passengers of the Bangalore-Howrah express train that slammed into coaches of the Coromandel Express reached Howrah station on Saturday afternoon.
Railway officials said some of the coaches of the Coromandel Express had been torn away from the train and tossed on to an adjoining track after it hit a goods train.
After the traumatic jolt, darkness descended and the survivors did not have a clue about what was happening.
Some of them said the next few hours were the longest in their lives. Many expected to remain in limbo for a few days.
Amid uncertainties about the availability of water, food and other items, they realised one thing — they were not the real victims.
“I was desperate to return to Howrah. I had to meet my younger son, Sahib Rahaman, and take him back to Bangalore, where my elder son Sohan is undergoing treatment for blood cancer,” said Roma Akhter, a homemaker from Rajshahi, Bangladesh.
“But sitting in my comparent, my mind was on those who had lost their loved ones in the accident. We were only left stranded in the darkness on the tracks,” she said.
As the Bangalore-Howrah Express chugged into platform number 8 in Howrah on Saturday afternoon, Roma’s son Sahib jumped in anticipation of meeting his mother. His uncle Abdur Rahim held him firmly.
Far away from the accident site, several passengers who returned were filled with gratitude that they had made it back.
“I was planning to join work from next week after returning from Bangalore with my family,” said Vinod Mahato, a worker posted in Malda with the railways’ engineering department.
“After the accident I have realised how uncertain life can be,” Mahato said, holding on to his six-year-old son, who underwent treatment at Nimhans, Bangalore.
With doctors, nursing staff and ambulances ready, the state government and the railways had made arrangements to move the injured to hospitals.
Water bottles, biscuits and other amenities were made available for the passengers.
“Stranded in the middle of nowhere, getting water for my child was my biggest challenge. It was a mixed feeling — surviving an accident by sheer luck and then being unsure about what lies ahead,” said P. Satish Rao, an executive of a jute mill in Hooghly’s Bansberia.
“We started receiving images of the accident on our mobile phones and our throats went dry. Some of us finally walked down the railway tracks and fetched water from a hand pump,” Rao said.
In the crowd of passengers who reached Howrah station were workers returning home on leave from their jobs as masons and carpenters in parts of Karnataka.
Some said the coaches they were in were close to the ones that were smashed. They suffered injuries from the jolt.
“I fell from my berth in the impact and hurt my hip,” said Sunil Mondal from Jiaganj, Murshidabad.
Railway officials said among those who arrived at Howrah, 27 were treated at hospitals. Two were admitted to the Howrah State General Hospital.