July 2, 2003: 22 people killed as train falls off bridge in Andhra Pradesh
At least 22 passengers and motorists were killed in a bizarre but ghastly accident in Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday when the engine and two coaches of a train fell off a bridge crushing vehicles passing underneath.
Among the victims were fish hawkers and motorists on the road who did not know what hit them when the Golconda Express overshot the station in Warangal, 150 km from here, and fell off a bridge in the heart of the town at around 10.30 a.m.
In the process, the bridge itself came crashing, burying unsuspecting people under tonnes of cement and concrete besides the diesel engine and steel railway coaches.
Senior railway officials in New Delhi sought to blame the accident on the Golconda Express' allegedly drunken driver who also perished.
While there was no independent confirmation, railway officials asserted here too that the disaster was caused by "human failure".
Among the dead were 12 motorists and commuters and nine train passengers. Two auto-rickshaws packed with people bore the terrible impact. About 20 people were injured, some critically. One fatality has not been accounted for.
A part of the train dangled precariously from the bridge and rescue workers had to use ladders to extricate frightened and wounded passengers from underneath the collapsed train.
A total of 16 bodies had been retrieved by evening. Rescue workers used gas cutters to retrieve trapped passengers from one of the two bogies that was badly mangled.
One railway official told IANS in New Delhi: "It is a clear case of human failure."
The accident occurred when the Golconda Express, proceeding from the coastal town of Vijayawada to Secunderabad, failed to stop at the Warangal railway station after its brakes failed.
It was diverted on to a loop line but the train could not bring itself to a halt and eventually ended up collapsing from the bridge. The train was scheduled to reach Secunderabad at 1.30 p.m.
As news of the disaster spread, there was panic in Warangal town where opposition parties had called a general strike against the sale of spurious seeds to farmers.
Almost the entire town turned out to view the bizarre spectacle of autos and two wheelers lying crushed under the diesel engine, a collapsed bridge and a train car, and another coach dangling half in the air with one end protruding into the other car.
Many witnesses joined the railway and police authorities in rescue operations by mobilizing ropes, ladders and gas cutters. Frantic efforts were on to extricate passengers trapped in the coaches.
Some bodies were simply dumped on the road in the commotion. Victims were transported on stretchers to the Warangal Government Hospital but many were bodily carried and dumped onto lorries and trucks.
Witnesses said some passengers jumped on to the road from the coaches even as they began to slide from the bridge.
In Secunderabad, hundreds of anxious relatives thronged the railway station demanding information about these travelling on the trains.
Many theories were floated to explain the tragedy - the third rail mishap in four weeks and the fourth in Andhra Pradesh in five weeks.
While the driver's inebriation was said to be a cause, one version said the driver had informed the Warangal Railway Station about the brake failure and the train was subsequently diverted to a loop line.
Another version had it that when the train overshot the station, it was diverted on a line not generally used and derailed just before the dead end.
An official spokesman told IANS that the cause of the accident was still under investigation.
As people expressed shock over the growing frequency of rail disasters despite the government's glib promises of ensuring safety, Railway Minister Nitish Kumar announced yet another inquiry.