AT LEAST six people, including three women, died after nine coaches of the Seemanchal Express heading to Delhi from Bihar derailed between Sahdei-Buzurg and Mahnar stations in Vaishali district, about 60 km north-east of Patna, officials said. The accident, which left 29 people injured, occurred around 4 am Sunday and was caused by a suspected fracture in the track before Mahnar station, they said.
The Railways has ordered a probe into the derailment. Many of the injured passengers said they were headed to Prayagraj in UP for the Kumbh. One of them, who is undergoing treatment at the Sadar hospital in Hajipur, about 25 km from the spot, said she first heard a “rattling” sound before briefly “losing consciousness”.
“I had been travelling with my husband and sister in coach B-3. We were jolted awake and fell off our seats. My husband and sister suffered head injuries but are stable,” Sudevi Basak, 62, a retired teacher, said.
“It took us about an hour to come out of the compartment. It was very dark and we were not able to locate the exit gate because of the chaos… We had boarded the train at Raiganj for taking the holy dip in the Ganges for the Kumbh,” she said.
Basak said her husband Subodh, 66, is in the emergency ward while sister Bhakti, 73, who also fractured her hand, is recuperating in the general ward at Sadar hospital. Some of those injured were admitted to the railways hospital in Sonepur, officials said. And at least seven have been referred to Patna Medical College and Hospital.
Officials identified the dead as Sudarshan Das (60), Ilwa Devi (60) and Indra Devi (65) from Khagaria in Bihar, and Saeeda Khatoon (45), Asar Alam (21) and Shamsuddin Alam from Chakalia in West Bengal.
Local residents engaged in rescue efforts claimed the train was running at “high speed” and that “most of the general compartments were overcrowded”.
“Many of the passengers were thrown off the train and came under its wheels. We carried out passengers using torches and ladders, first from the AC compartment as it had no available opening,” Raghunath Mahto, one of the rescuers and a resident of Sahdei, said.
Railways officials at the spot said passengers seated near the doors of the coaches and bathrooms were the most affected. Of the nine derailed coaches, including the AC coach, three had toppled to the side with their doors facing the sky, and the tracks were dislodged at several spots.
Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal “expressed profound grief over the loss of innocent lives in this tragic accident” and announced Rs 5 lakh each in compensation to families of the dead, Rs 1 lakh each to those seriously injured and Rs 50,000 each for others with minor injuries. “All medical expenses will also be born by Railways,” said a tweet from his office’s official handle.
The single-line route transports a few express trains, including Dibrugarh-Rajdhani Express. But the Seemanchal Express is a key line for migrant workers heading to the National Capital, and at least one of the injured — Sonu Kumar, 21, from Katihar — said he had boarded the train in search of a job. The train is the only direct link from the Seemanchal areas of Araria, Purnia, Katihar and Kishanganj in Bihar to Delhi.
At the spot, cranes were deployed to lift the derailed coaches, with four NDRF teams reaching by 6.15 am. “All the dead had been identified by the time we arrived. We used gas cutters to rescue some passengers,” NDRF (Bihar) commandant, Vijay Sinha, said.
Local residents blamed the accident on poor maintenance of tracks. Yashwant Kumar Singh, a resident of Mahnar, showed a letter he had purportedly sent to the station superintendent on January 19, about tracks subsiding at some spots near the station.
Chief Public Relations Officer (East Central Zone) Rajesh Kumar said Commissioner Railway Safety (Eastern Zone) Latif Khan would conduct an inquiry into the accident.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and RJD chief Lalu Prasad were among the leaders from the state who expressed grief over the accident.