Minister of state for railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Monday's train accident in Dhamara Ghat station in Khagaria district could have been averted had there been roads on both sides of the station.
"As there were no roads, the pilgrims used the rail tracks to go to the temple. They had no choice," Chowdhury told mediapersons at Patna airport on Tuesday.
"They were trapped between two trains on loop lines, while Rajya Rani Express approached in the middle line. The locals could not realise that the train was coming from behind and they could not even run away."
He said 28 deaths had been confirmed so far while nine others were critically injured and admitted to hospitals. The minister reached Dhamara at 3am on Tuesday from Kolkata.
The 'kanwarias' or devotees of Lord Shiva were walking along the rail tracks at Dhamara after alighting from the Samastipur-Saharsa passenger train when the Saharsa-Patna Rajyarani Express, travelling at 80 kmph, ran over them. The pilgrims were going to nearby Katyayni Sthan temple to offer obeisance to Lord Shiva on the last Monday in the month of Shravan, considered holy in the Hindu calendar.
The minister expressed surprise at the backwardness of the area, and said there was no dearth of funds under various rural schemes, including Prime Minister Gramin Sadak Yojana, for construction of roads in remote villages.
"I have directed that an additional platform be immediately built at the station. Besides, a foot-over bridge will also be built. There is also need for regular announcements through public address system to keep the locals informed about train movements," he said.
The minister said the local administration should have been more alert and informed the railway officials about the Shravan fair at the temple. "There was clear lack of coordination. Had there been prior information about the fair, the railways could have taken some precaution," he said.
East Central Railway (ECR) general manager Madhuresh Kumar said railway traffic on the route had been restored. "Dhamara station has been badly damaged. We will start its reconstruction soon," he said.