As many as 60 people were killed and 150 injured as a passenger train rammed into another at Saithia, about 210 km to the north of Kolkata at 2:05 am on Monday morning.
An unreserved compartment of Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express was crushed and another telescoped towards the footbridge when Sealdah bound Cooch Behar Uttarbanga Express ploughed through it from behind at this station near Shantiniketan.
Though 49 bodies – 39 men, eight women and two children – could be recovered by 8 in the morning, according to locals helping in relief, the toll could be much higher as many bodies are still trapped inside the coaches.
The Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express bound for Ranchi was standing at platform number 4 when it was hit from behind by a speeding train, Uttarbanga Express.
“Those dead could be more than 60 or 70. In fact, it is difficult to ascertain the figure as bodies are still trapped inside coaches,” said Srikumar Mukherjee, civil defense minister, West Bengal at 8:20 am. Mukherjee passed by the accident site about 30 minutes prior to the accident.
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee has reportedly reached the accident site.
Mamata Banerjee was "suspicious" about the cause of the accident. "I am suspicious about the cause of the accident," Banerjee told reporters here when asked about the circumstances that led to the mishap. "We have some doubt in our mind. Whatever happened is not casual thing. We will take all strong step against those who are behind this," she said before proceeding for the accident site. She, however, did not elaborate, but said that she had ordered an inquiry.
The fear about higher casualties was triggered by the fact that both the bogies were unreserved compartments packed with passengers in excess of a sleeper coach that normally accommodates 72.
Most of the dead and seriously injured were passengers of the Vananchal Express. The driver and assistant driver of Uttarbanga Express were killed. Passengers of Uttarbanga Express escaped with far less damages as the engine absorbed the major shock.
Both the ill-fated trains were running late. While Vananchal Express was supposed to reach Saithia at 8:30 pm, Uttarbanga Express was supposed to arrive at 1:37 am.
“The injured are being rushed to Bolpur Sadar hospital. The bodies are also being removed to district headquarters Siuri,” said Mohan. A relief train left for Howrah in the morning.
“More than 70 injured have been taken to the hospital,” said Soumitra Mohan.
The accident happened when Uttarbanga Express allegedly came in at great speed even if it had a scheduled stop at the station.
“There were announcements at the public address system at the station for those in the platform to move away as the train was coming in at great speed,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, student of class 12. He had come to see off his uncle Swapan Mukherjee, who was coming to Kolkata.
Bolpur sub division hospital and Rampurhat hospitals have been asked to stand by for relief. Locals and municipality workers jumped to relief work.
“It has been five hours since the accident, but there is no sight of relief from the Railways. Just now a train arrived with some equipment,” said Tansher Ali, MLA from Cooch Behar who was travelling by Uttarbanga Express.
This accident comes within a month and a half of the Jnaneswari Express accident in which 148 people persihed in an accident plotted by supporters of the CPI(Maoist) in West Midnapore district.
Eastern Railway has opened control rooms following the accident.
With inputs from agencies
The stations and their phone numbers are: Sealdah (033-23503535, 033-23503537), Malda (06436-222061), Bhagalpur (06412-4222433), Jamalpur (063444-3101)