At 3.03 AM, the driver of the Indore-Patna Express witnessed “the overhead equipment shaking” and “felt a jerk” — both out of the ordinary occurrences — and applied emergency brakes, show official Railways records of the worst train accident in recent years that killed at least 120 people and injured over 180. Fourteen coaches of the Indore-Patna Express had derailed at Pukhrayan in Kanpur Dehat district of Uttar Pradesh early Sunday morning.
This is the worst accident since May 28, 2010, when the Gyaneshwari Express derailed in West Midnapore district of West Bengal, killing at least 148 people.
The Commissioner of Railway Safety, Eastern, P K Acharya, who is probing Sunday’s accident, will look into the possibility of a fracture in the tracks as a possible cause of the accident, which led to the coaches to not only go off the rails but pile up, leading to high casualties.
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, who visited the accident site, told reporters that a fracture in the rails and jamming of wheels is suspected to have caused the accident. A little after 3 am, when most passengers were fast asleep, the Patna-bound train jumped the tracks. Two sleeper coaches, S1 and S2, telescoped into each other, trapping several people. Most of the passengers were travelling to eastern UP and Bihar.
Ruby Gupta, who was to get married on December 1, was travelling from Indore to her village in Deoria, eastern UP, with her father, sister and brother. “We had got Rs 3 lakh exchanged into new currency notes. That bag has gone missing. My father Ram Prasad Gupta is missing,” said her younger brother Vishal as Ruby and younger sister Khushi cried inconsolably. “Somebody please find my father,” cried Khushi at the Pukhrayan community health centre (CHC). By evening, came news that their father had been identified among the dead.
Ram Kumar Singh of Ballia, who was going to Varanasi from Indore, suffered a head injury. “The coach was shaking violently. It felt like an earthquake. Later, five of us climbed out of the roof of the coach. Mar gaye, mar gaye, bhagwan bachao ki cheekhein aa rahi thi, bass (All we could hear were cries of ‘We are dead, we are dead, God help us),” said Singh, who works in a textile mill in Sehore.
Official communication accessed by The Indian Express show that driver Jalat Sharma and chief loco inspector P D Yadav told railway officers that the train was running at 110 km per hour when the accident happened. They told the officers that there was no problem during the run, except around the time that it was crossing the Pukhrayan section, 60 km from Kanpur.
According to the accounts of Sharma and Yadav, the emergency brake was applied at kilometer 1,290. It was only after crossing almost six overhead equipment (OHE) masts that the train came to a complete halt. “…at km number 1290/6, applied emergency train stop at km number 1290/12, loco and load checked found loco safe. 14 coaches from engine derailed…heavy casualty,” says one of the communication messages.
The residents of Pukhrayan were among the first to reach the spot and start rescuing those trapped. Rescue operations, led by teams of the Army, UP Police, NDRF and RAF, continued late into the night, with bodies still being recovered. Over two dozen trains have been diverted as railway officials worked to restore the track.
Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, Daljit Chowdhary, said the injured were rushed to Kanpur’s Hallet Hospital and the Pukhrayan CHC.
Divisional Railway Manager, Jhansi, S K Agarwal, said the Sabarmati Express, on its way to Jhansi, had gone on the same track at 2.53 am, minutes before the Indore-Patna Express, and the driver hadn’t felt any jerk. Agarwal said tracks are inspected every one month and the wheels of the coaches undergo “ultrasonic detection tests” every two months. “I had myself done the inspection of this track over a month ago,” he said, adding, “The cause will be known only after the inquiry.”
Derailment is the cause of 50 per cent of all accidents in the Indian Railways. This accident happened at a time when Railways, at the behest of minister Suresh Prabhu, was in the middle of a yearlong drive to achieve its “zero accident mission”. The accident has also brought into question the money spent on asset maintenance, including track renewal.
“The focus of the ministry has changed from operation to cosmetics. This is derailment of an entire railway organisation, not a train,” said Dinesh Trivedi, former Railway Minister and Chairman of the Standing Committee on Railways.
The accident coincided with Rail Vikas Shivir, a three-day “brainstorming” seminar in Surajkund, Haryana. One of the topics of discussion was how to bring about “zero accidents”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived for the concluding session of the seminar, held about eight hours after the accident, announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to each of the next of kin of the dead and other ex-gratia packages. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who went to the accident site late Sunday afternoon, also announced a Rs 3.5 lakh compensation to each of the families of the dead, along with other smaller amounts for the injured.