The only Railway Board member who inspected the train accident site along with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday termed it the “freakiest of freak accidents” by railway standards and said worse could have happened.
V K Gupta, Member (Engineering), who is the top officer for all track and related infrastructure in the Indian Railways, carried out a technical assessment of the situation at Ground Zero.
“This kind of accident is freakiest of freak and defeats all probability. Such was the intensity of the rainfall that the water-level rose around four metres above what is considered a danger for the railway track,” Gupta told The Indian Express from Bhopal after carrying out his official assessment.
What is befuddling to the Railway top brass is that trains had crossed the affected section barely eight minutes prior to the accident. So there was no sign to indicate an imminent danger except the need to apply caution.
“Thankfully our guys inspecting the tracks there had warned the driver of heavy rain. So the trains were halted before the bridge. But the earth eroded from beneath the tracks. Had the trains been moving, worse could have happened,” he said.
To understand the intensity of what happened, Gupta and other state officials also interacted with local villagers who told them that the area in particular had never witnessed such floods.
“A bridge is designed to withstand such floods maybe once in 50 to 100 years,” he said. “But the state authorities told me the Indirasagar dam rose one metre within a day. That’s not common.”
Although it was a flash flood and cannot be predicted in future, sources said divisional railway authorities are considering including the affected area in its local list of vulnerable zones.
Railway Board Chairman A K Mital said the local division had a list of such vulnerable zones where speed restriction and other standard operating procedure were in place for safety. But the bridge and nearby areas were not among them.
“The trains were not moving. There was nothing more the drivers could have done. We have taken their report of the incident from the drivers and have also instituted a Commissioner of Railway Safety probe,” Mital said.
Earlier in the day, before leaving for the accident site, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu made a suo motu statement on the incident in Parliament.
“The prima-facie cause of the incident is stated to be flash floods due to heavy rain. As per available information, 12 passengers lost their lives and 25 sustained injuries in this unfortunate incident,” Prabhu said, adding the exact number of casualties was still being ascertained.
The family of the dead will get Rs 2 lakh while those with grave injuries will get Rs 50,000.