Three persons were killed and 11 injured when the Secunderabad-Mumbai Duronto Express rammed into a tractor carrying 22 sugarcane harvest labourers at a manned level crossing between Uruli Kanchan and Yevat railway stations, around 45 km from Pune, around 7 am on Saturday. Although a green signal was given for the express train to pass, the level crossing had remained open.
All the labourers hailed from Takli Manur village in Ahmednagar and were working for a jaggery-making plant. The Central Railways has set up a five-member team to probe the accident.
Pune rural police said prima facie, the gateman responsible for giving the signal to the passing train traffic as well as to make sure that the level crossing remained closed at the time of the passage of a train, apparently failed to do his duty.
The rural police have detained gateman Jaipal Yadav (32). Police said the accident took place at 7.11 am at Gate Crossing No.10 near Kharda village. Some villagers who witnessed the accident called ambulances and took some of the injured to a local hospital.
Amol Tekawade, an eyewitness who stays about 70 metres from the tracks, told Newsline, “I was having my morning tea when I heard a loud thud. As I turned my head towards the tracks, I saw bodies thrown in the air. One trolley of the tractor had fallen on the left side of the track and while another trolly and the engine was lying on the opposite side. The train, then slowed down and stopped.”
Takwade said, “One of the women was stuck on top of a fig tree around 100 feet from the spot of the collision,” said Takwade.
Three persons — two of them women — were declared dead when taken to Shri Seva Hospital at Khamgaon Phata. The deceased have been identified as Taibai Namdeo Barde, Karbhari Shiroba Maharnur, and Indubai Bhajinath Handal (all aged between 30 and 35 years). Five injured are being treated at Shri Seva Hospital while six others have been shifted to private hospitals in Pune and Daund. Manoj Kumar Lohia, superintendent of Pune rural, said many lives were saved as the lever joining the two trollies had broken due to the impact. “The 14 people in the other trolley escaped with minor injuries,” said Lohia.
“There is a double line in that stretch. Just five minutes before the accident, a goods train had passed from the other line in the opposite direction. After the train passed, the gateman opened the barriers, which remained so even when the Duronto passed. He should have closed the gate crossing. Either he forgot to do that or the gate, which is mechanically operated, failed to close due to some technical glitch,” said a senior railway official in the Pune division.
He said the gate operated on electricity but the supply to the crossing was intermittent. In the case of power cut or low-voltage supply, the gate is operated on a power generator. These complications could also have resulted in the failure of a prompt gate closure, the official said.
While most of the signals are operated from nearby railway stations, those near the Gate No.10 are among the few operated by gatemen and not staffers at the station.
The Pune division administration has announced an ex-gratia help of Rs 50,000 to the relatives of the deceased, Rs 25,000 to those with serious injuries and Rs 5,000 to those who suffered minor injuries.
Additional collector Ganesh Patil said the district administration would make a recommendation to seek compensation for the injured and the kin of the deceased.
Harsha Shah of Railway Pravasi Group said, “In this case, the houses that hinder the view of drivers approaching the level crossing are also to blame. No construction should be allowed within a 100-metre distance from railway tracks.”