As many as 133 people were killed and more than 200 injured when 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express train derailed in Kanpur Dehat district of Uttar Pradesh early Sunday — one of India’s worst train accidents in six years.
The derailment happened at 3.10am near Pukhrayan, about 100km from Kanpur.
Most of the 500 passengers on board were sleeping and some of the shocked survivors recalled how they got jolted out of their slumber by a violent thud.
“The coach began to shake and people who were asleep began falling on one another. When the shuddering stopped … our bogie was in a crop field, 25m from the tracks. It was cold and dark,” recalled Raj Kumar Gupta, who was in the S4 coach which was among the four coaches that were gravely damaged.
The S1 and S2 telescoped into each other while the S3 coach also suffered severe damage. Four AC coaches were derailed too.
Unlike the Gyaneshwari Express derailment in West Bengal in May 2010, in which at least 148 people were killed after suspected Maoist insurgents removed a portion of the tracks, authorities ruled out sabotage in Sunday’s accident.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu said a high-level commission has been constituted to investigate the causes of the derailment and promised accountability with the “strictest possible action”, and compensation for the affected passengers.
President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, railway minister Prabhu, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is facing tough assembly polls next year, and a host of leaders condoled the loss of lives.
“Anguished beyond words on loss of lives due to the derailing of Patna-Indore express. My thoughts are with the bereaved families,” Modi tweeted.
Villagers were the first to dash to help, saving many passengers trapped inside the coaches. The impact was so intense that two sleeper coaches were found 500 metres in the fields near the track.
“I woke up suddenly around 3.10am and felt a tremor. The train came to a screeching halt. All of a sudden, I was crushed under a crowd of people… everyone was screaming for help,” survivor Yaqoob Ahmed said at Kanpur’s UHM hospital.
Junior railway minister Manoj Sinha corroborated passengers’ account about an unusual mechanical sound they heard before the accident, saying his technical staff informed him that repeated jolts besieged the train before the bogies derailed.
It was not immediately clear what caused the coaches to derail, but sources said a crack in the tracks could be the culprit . Also, authorities were checking if the air brakes that would have prevented the disaster had failed.
Such cracks have been a cause of concern for the world’s fourth largest railway system, saddled with a poor safety record and a rickety British-era infrastructure. Indian trains ferry more than 20 million people daily.
Prime Minister Modi announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the gravely injured. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar, also announced identical amounts — Rs 2 lakh and Rs 50,000 — as compensation.
The railway ministry will give Rs 3.5 lakh for the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
Chief minister Yadav directed top police officers to monitor the relief effort and announced Rs 5 lakh each as compensation to the families of those who lost their lives and Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with minor injuries.
Teams of the national disaster response force and army jawans helped in the relief and rescue, which railway authorities said was almost concluded by late evening. They used cold cutters, which produce less heat, to slice through the twisted metal to pull out trapped survivors and corpses.
Several trains on the Jhansi-Kanpur route were either diverted or cancelled.
A green corridor was created for the quick movement of ambulances. More than 30 ambulances were pressed into service, Kanpur range inspector general of police Zaki Ahmad said.
The express train, which runs twice a week, was to reach Patna at 4.40pm. Anxious relatives who rushed to the Patna station complained of lack of information.
(With inputs from agencies)