The driver of the Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani Express that derailed in Bihar early Wednesday said he did not hear any explosion even as Railway authorities began an inquiry to find out the cause of the incident in which four passengers were killed.
“I heard no explosion. All I heard was a rattling sound as if coming from underneath the train so I applied the brakes.
The train stopped and then I took a look outside. The train was lying off the track,” driver S B Mahato told The Indian Express. “We had just crossed a signal of caution. The speed was around 60-65 kmph. Suddenly it felt the train was dragging and then it started slowing down, so I applied the brakes.”
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Mahato said if the axle of the coach collapsed or the rail gave away, he did not get to know while driving it. “Within two minutes I relayed the message that the train had derailed,” he said.
What led the authorities to suspect sabotage was a similar derailment — of a goods train — about a couple of hours before the Rajdhani incident and within a distance of 60 km from the spot. While the Rajdhani derailed between Chhapra and Goldenganj stations, the goods train derailed in East Champaran district.
The Railway Ministry has got the confirmation that the derailment of the goods train was definitely an act of sabotage.
The zonal railway received the confirmation from Bihar police and communicated to the Railway Board late Wednesday.
It is learnt that on June 24, the Bihar police in a written message to the zonal railway had asked for general security of tracks, bridges and other railway property citing a bandh called by Maoists. However, there was no specific input for track patrolling in the section where the Rajdhani derailed.
Manual track patrolling by gangmen is done to find out rail fractures and other possible inconsistencies in the track as a preventive safety measure.
Although the Rajdhani driver said he heard no explosion, rail authorities said only a thorough probe will help determine the cause of the incident. “Sabotage could also be the reason. The Commissioner of Railway Safety probe will get to the actual cause of the derailment,” Chairman Railway Board Arunendra Kumar said.
Railway engineers at the site ascertained whether a blast could indeed have been the case because in long-welded rails, which do not have frequent joints and ‘fish plates”, it would take a really strong explosive device to damage the tracks.
Railway Board Member (Mechanical) Alok Johri and Member (Traffic) DP Pande accompanied Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda to the spot for inspection. However, Member (Engineering) VK Gupta, whose domain is rail fracture and track maintenance, remained in Delhi. “If it is sabotage then there is no need for the Member (Engineering) to go to the spot because it is not a case of derailment due to equipment failure,” said a senior railway official.
There has been a 244 per cent jump in derailments this year between April 1 and June 25 compared to same time last year.
From just nine such cases same period last year, the number has increased to 22. This financial year derailments have killed 56 people while in the past two fiscals derailments killed only 11.