Mangled remains of the first coach of Chennai Beach – Vellore MEMU train and four other bogies of the two trains that derailed, greeted union railway minister Dinesh Trivedi when he visited Chitteri, the accident spot near Arakkonam in Vellore district on Wednesday afternoon.
An overspeeding Mainline electrical multiple unit (MEMU) train rammed into a stationary Arakkonam –Katpadi passenger train at around 9.30 pm lastnight. Five bogies of the EMU and three bogies of the passenger train were derailed due the impact.
MEMU motorman (driver), 40 year old Raj Kumar, now out of ICU and recovering at the Government General Hospital in Chennai is said to have caused the accident as per preliminary inquiries. He had just left Arakkonam station and was travelling at 80 kmph and could not stop in time when he spotted a train on the tracks and crashed into it.
"A reading of our signal records show that the EMU had jumped two signals before Arakkonam, and was probably going to do the same at Sitheri, the accident spot. A full investigation by the safety commission would confirm this. Since it was raining he was expected to drive cautiously which he was not doing," Deepak Krishnan, southern railway general manager told the media at the accident spot. He could have been overspeeding as he was late by two hours.
Raj Kumar had jumped out seconds before the crash and fell on his face. Badly disfigured, he is not in a condition to talk, though he is progressing well, doctors at GH Hospital Chennai said.
The union railway minister Trivedi, too said the driver had oversped and caused the accident. But he was cautious and said it would be too early to talk about the reasons for the accident before an expert committee probed the incident and came up with its report.
Along with Raj Kumar, some 34 other injured have been admitted to general hospital, eight of them in serious condition. In all 72 people were injured and the rest have been taken to government hospital at Arakkonam, some 8 km from the accident site close to Melapakkam.
The death toll has been officially put at 10.
Local villagers and a team from the National Disaster Response Force, which has a camp 10 km away from the accident spot, were the first to arrive within half an hour of the crash, rescue passengers and take them to the nearest hospital in Arakkonam.
"Which is perhaps why the death toll and the casualty figures did not rise as we had feared," said a senior railway official. Another lucky aspect was that neither of the two trains were packed to capacity. Since the MEMU was late by two hours, many who regularly take it could have opted for other trains or buses to reach their destination, said another railway official on the spot, thanking the villagers for timely help.
Minutes before the arrival of the union railways minister, accompanied by his junior KH MUniyappa and senior railway board officials, the workers had cleared the tracks so that rail traffic could begin on the route. Several trains had been cancelled or re-routed, causing undue delays in the running of Southward bound trains from Chennai. By 5 pm traffic was fully restored on the Chennai-Arakkonam route, railway officials said.
"We are working out a system to prevent accident like this one does not occur again,” Trivedi said talking to press persons at the accident site. “We have to find out why this accident occurred," the minister said before leaving the spot. He also thanked the villagers nearby who helped in rescue operations.
The railways ministry has offered Rs 5 lakh compesnation to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 1 lakh for the seriously injured.