Some time before 6 pm on Saturday, Mohammad Salim of Khatauli’s Nayi Abadi village heard a sound like a bomb blast. For a few bewildered moments, he saw train coaches flying in the air, he said — and then collapsing on top of one another.
There were people inside the coaches, and he could hear their cries for help. It was something Salim had never seen, or could have imagined.
He ran towards the tracks, Salim said. “Hundreds of people rushed from our village. We got two cots and two ladders, and started pulling out people one by one. We rushed them to Mansoor, the local doctor in our village, who administered first aid to the injured before the ambulances started arriving,” he said.
Well over six hours after the derailment — past midnight — Salim continued to stand at the spot. As rescue crews cut through the mangled coaches, he said he feared many people were still trapped inside. “People were screaming bacha lo, bacha lo… Four women are still trapped… I saw them in the evening, but I could not save them,” he said.
The Kalinga Utkal Express went off the rails on a single track that connects Meerut to Haridwar. The line runs between two villages, Jagat Colony and Nayi Abadi. Some 25 trains go past the villages every day on average, local people said.
Several people from Jagat Colony said they had watched in shock as a coach went flying off the track and into the building of an intermediate college. “Women, children, men, everyone was screaming. We tried to help in whatever way we could,” they said.
Residents of both villages said some sort of repair work had been under way on the track for the last 10 days. Two local people, who identified themselves as Himanshu and Ali, said they thought the train was going unusually fast.
“Generally we see trains slow down as they pass through here. But this one did not,” they said.
Mahesh Chandra Sharma of Morena, Madhya Pradesh, who was travelling to Haridwar in the coach immediately following the engine, too, thought the train was travelling very fast. “We are lucky to be alive,” he said. Village residents said three or four people who were not on the train had been crushed during the derailment. No official was, however, available to confirm this.
SSP Muzaffarnagar Anant Dev said he could confirm 16 people had died and 74 were injured. DM G S Priyadarshi said he had asked for a special “hydra crane” to lift the coaches. Around 150 personnel of the NDRF were on the spot. Around midnight, four personnel carried out a woman’s body on stretcher. NDRF Assistant Commandant P K Shrivastav said their prime concern was to seek out people who might still be alive inside the wreckage.