At least 23 people were killed and around 400 injured after 14 coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express derailed at Khatauli, near Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh on Saturday evening August 19.
Out of the 14 coaches, three were AC and the rest were sleepers.
Cause of the accident
The accident was caused due to human error – some repair work on the tracks was in progress, of which the station master of Khatauli, Rajinder Singh, claimed to have been unaware. “We had no knowledge of technical problems,” he told NDTV.
At the Khatauli railway station, the whiteboard on which warning notes for trains is written has been wiped clean. The Muzaffarnagar station master, where the train was supposed to arrive after crossing Khatauli also claimed to be unaware of the repair work.
“Though the investigation is yet to be concluded, but preliminary probe suggests that the driver of the Kalinga Express had applied sudden brakes as he found repair works going on the track which led to the accident,” a senior railway minister had told The Hindu.
However, as reported by NDTV, sources in the railways’ engineering division said that they had warned the Khatauli station authorities of the repair work and no train was supposed to pass on the tracks for 20 minutes. They added that two trains had even slowed down on the stretch before the repair started.
According to a preliminary probe, the derailment happened due to lapse or negligence from those taking care of track maintenance activities at the Khatauli yard.
“It is a major coordination lapse. Our repairmen had removed a small section of the track and were in the process of replacing it when the Utkal Express came down the tracks at a speed of 100 kmph. Clamps and tools have been found near the accident site to indicate repair work was underway. The officials at Khatauli should have known. The PWI (permanent way inspector) should have informed them,” said a senior Northern Railways official to The Indian Express.
As per protocol, the cases of track maintenance requires the concerned railway station to be informed and a written permission sought. It remains unclear if this was done.
The train was going at 100 km per hour when it derailed on Saturday evening. The impact of the accident was so strong that a derailed coach crashed into a house in Jagat colony, a railway colony next to the tracks.
The train had a total of 23 coaches, of which 14 had derailed and six were severely damaged.
Jagat Ram, one of the residents of the house said that the train track in the area was being repaired for two days before the day of the accident. Locals suspect that the driver of Utkal Express was not informed of the repair work.
NDRF rescuers and various divisions of the police worked with gas cutters and cranes to find survivors trapped under the crushed coaches. Rescue operations ended in the early hours on Sunday, with at least 23 dead and 400 injured. Fifteen of the deceased have been identified.
There were several who have boarded the train from Gwalior for Haridwar. Post the accident. The children’s ward in the Muzaffarnagar district hospital was packed with the injured, with many unattended.
Eye witnesses informed that many pedestrians walking on the road near the railway track were also wounded.
Most of the injured were in a state of shock. Many elderly people were lying near the tracks, struggling to overcome the trauma. There were bodies scattered everywhere, some dead, some injured.
Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Sunday directed the chairman of the railway board to probe the accident and fix responsibility by the end of the day on “prima facie” evidence.
Apart from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the anti-terrorist squad was also called upon and all hospital in Meerut were sent an accident alert.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express his grief over the accident.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Suresh Prabhu announced an ex-gratia of Rs 3.5 lakh for the kin of dead, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with minor injuries. CM Adityanath also announced Rs 2 lakh for the families of the deceased.
The Odisha government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh for next of kin of passengers from the State killed in the derailment. The government will also pay Rs 50,000 for the injured and for treatment in any hospital.
On Sunday, the police said that an FIR has been registered against unknown persons, while railway officials said that an audio clip of an alleged conversation between a railway employee and a media person, in which the former claimed Saturday’s tragedy in Khatauli was due to “negligence”, will be looked into.
The same day, four railway officials have been suspended and the chief truck engineer of Northern Railways has been transferred. Three other officials have been sent on leave.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav urged the railway minister to resign saying, “how will people travel, there is no guarantee of safety.”
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said, “Shocked to know about unfortunate accident in #Muzaffarnagar. My thoughts with families who lost their loved ones.”
Indian Railways: A Grim Reality
Some residents of Khatauli claimed that a similar accident was averted on June 12. “There was a crack on the track, which was spotted by the employee of a school located nearby. As soon as he realised that a train was approaching, he ran towards it with a red shirt, and got the train to stop. We thought they would have started repair work after that incident,” said Pradeep Dhama, a resident to The Indian Express.
In the first five months of this year, a total of 29 serious train accidents have occurred, out of which 20 accidents happened due to derailment. Last year, 78 derailments took place on railway tracks two of which were attributed to ‘coach defect.’
In the last five years, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, 308 accidents occurred due to derailment, out of the total 586. Out of total 1,011 casualties, 347 were killed due to train derailments and 449 because of unmanned level crossings.
Only in November last year, 14 coaches of the Patna-bound Indore-Rajendranagar Express train derailed between Pokhrayan and Malasa stations in Uttar Pradesh, killing 152 passengers and injuring 183.
But the Railway authorities have hardly learnt from past mistakes.
The Utkal Express accident could have been easily avoided; all it required was efficient management. It is unbelievable that a train was moving at the speed of 100 km per hour on a track that was under repair.
Lakhs of passengers travel on trains every day and nothing justifies negligence on part of railway authorities.