In one of the worst train accidents this year, at least 20 passengers were killed and over 80 others injured after 14 coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Kalinga Utkal Express derailed at Khatauli, 25 km from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, on Saturday evening, officials said. The accident took place at 5.46 pm, as the train was crossing the Khatauli station yard at a speed of 105 kmph, they said.
According to preliminary information received by the Railways, 14 coaches between the first five and the last four went off the tracks suddenly, including 10 non-AC Sleeper, one AC-III tier, one AC-II tier and a pantry car — only two wheels of the 14th coach were dislodged. “Five Sleeper coaches were the worst affected,” said a Railways spokesman.
Officials indicated that the death toll may rise as some of the injured, who were rushed to hospitals in Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Meerut, were said to be in a serious condition.
UP Principal Secretary (Home) Arvind Kumar told The Sunday Express, “According to information received so far, 20 passengers have died and 81 injured in the accident. Twelve coaches of the train derailed, with some crashing into a residential area nearby, damaging a few houses. Passengers in eight other coaches escaped unhurt.”
UP DGP Sulkhan Singh said that a team of the state’s Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), led by DySP Anoop Singh, has been sent to the spot “to help in the investigation”. Sources said that work related to the doubling of tracks was being executed adjacent to the line. “The driver is slightly injured and the Railways is trying to ascertain if he had applied the emergency brakes,” said sources.
According to government officials, four teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) — three from Ghaziabad and one from Delhi — have reached the site.
The Railways, however, could confirm only 11 deaths, with officials saying that they were in the process of verifying the toll. Officials said the schedules of 11 trains on the route were affected by the accident.
Reacting to the accident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on Twitter: “Extremely pained by the derailment of the Utkal Express in Muzaffarnagar. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. I wish those injured a speedy recovery. The situation is being monitored very closely by the Railways Ministry.”
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu posted on Twitter that an inquiry has been set up to find the cause of the accident. Prabhu also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 3.5 lakh each to the families of those killed, Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured, and Rs 25,000 to those with minor injuries.
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha left for the accident site from Delhi along with two Railway Board members and other senior officials. Divisional, zonal and ministry officials reached the spot over three hours after the accident. A Railways’ medical van from Saharanpur and an Accident Relief Train from Ambala have reached the spot, officials said.
Officials said rescue and relief operations remained slow due to the darkness and the huge crowd of people that had gathered. But they said all the injured, who were not trapped inside the derailed coaches, had been moved out. They said that two coaches had “capsized”, or toppled over, after derailing.
The UP government and other agencies, including the NDRF, arranged for 65 ambulances, while local residents joined in the relief and rescue operations. Local BJP MP Sanjeev Balyan was one of the first to reach the site to aid initial rescue work, officials said.
State government officials said UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed state ministers Suresh Rana and Satish Mahana to rush to the spot, monitor relief work and arrange medical aid for the injured. “The injured in the rail accident will get proper treatment. Orders issued for all possible help to reach the site,” Adityanath posted on Twitter.
The Chief Minister has also announced financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of those killed and Rs 50,000 each to those injured, officials said. “Food packets are being distributed to passengers, and private and state buses have been arranged to ferry them to their destinations,” an official said.
Started in 1969-70, the Kalinga Utkal Express is popular among pilgrims and tourists from Odisha. These coaches are of the older, Integral Coach Factory (ICF) variety, which do not have an anti-climbing feature to prevent a coach from piling on another. Officials said that in case of a collision or derailment, there were chances of higher casualty in these coaches compared to their more modern Linke-Hoffman-Busch counterparts.
There has been a spate of major derailments since last November, when the Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur, killing 150 passengers. The Sealdah Ajmer Express derailed a month later, injuring 63 passengers. In January this year, 32 people died after the Hirakhand Express derailed near Vizianagram in Andhra Pradesh. In all these cases, Railways said that it suspected sabotage. The National Investigation Agency is probing these accidents.
According to official data, 2016-17 saw 99 accidents which involved casualties — track defects were detected in 40 of these accidents.