Harda/Bhopal: Even though the railways announced completion of the rescue operation on Wednesday evening nearly 40 hours after the unprecedented twin derailment 18 kms off Harda station the Bhopal Divisional Railway authorities were still groping in the dark for possible cause of the accident.
At least 34 people died and 70 others were injured after seven coaches of Mumbai-Varanasi Kamayani Express and five bogies of Patna-Mumbai Janata Express capsized while crossing a swollen Machak river on Tuesday night.
The Railway authorities claimed to have rescued over 300 persons but the toll could still go up as several passengers were feared to have been washed away in the gushing waters. Some bodies were recovered from over a mile away from the mishap site. A survivor of Kamayni Express mishap, AkhileshPratap Singh said he along with nearly 100 passengers, travelling in the general class coach managed to reach a hilltop to safety.
Madhya Pradesh Public Relation Department Commissioner AnupamRajan said the dead included 10 women and five children and 11 members of a family going to Shirdi.
West Central Railway spokesperson Piyush Mathur said parts of the two trains plunged into the river as the base material below the track was washed away in floods triggered by heavy rain.
The Commissioner of Railway Safety (Central Zone) will conduct the probe. However, VK Gupta, one of the members of the railway board who visited the site said this was one of the freakiest accidents he had come across. The surprising part was the rise of water level by over four metres in less than 10 minutes between the safe crossing of the previous train and the ill-fated ones.Gupta said the accident could have led to a worse scenario.
Lemuel Lall, a journalist who visited the spot on Wednesday said one of the suspected causes was the abrupt application of brake by the driver of Kamayani Express which was running at a high speed and was signalled to halt by the guard of the slow moving Janata Express.
The unusually sharp braking apparently shook the base below the track that was loosened by flowing water. The track was not inspected in the evening and damage caused by heavy rains went unnoticed. Although the accident site was just over 18 kms from Harda station it took over 30 minutes for the information to reach there. Initial rescue operations were hampered by incessant rain and poor visibility. But the army rushed to the spot and with the help of civilians rescued nearly 250 passengers averting a bigger loss of lives.
A state government official said the rescue operations began in right earnest only after the National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) team arrived at the scene nearly two hours after the derailment.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu who announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those who suffered serious injuries, and said the accident was caused by a natural calamity and couldn’t have been prevented.
According to another version, the embankment of a pond breached due to sudden release of water from a dam near Aamkhal could have caused the flash flood. The railway official, however, did not confirm any such breach.
There was a war of words between the railways and the meteorological department over the disaster. While the met office says it had warned of heavy rainfall in the affected region the railways denied any such information. The met office said the warning was sent to the divisional railway manager’s (DRM) office on Tuesday morning.
Political games instantly began with the Congress and AamAdmi party squarely blaming Suresh Prabhu for the absence of safety in the railways and demanding his resignation.
At least 23 trains were cancelled for over two days. This is the second disruption of rail traffic in less than a fortnight within the radius of 100 kms of Itarsi, one of the key junctions of Central Indiathat routes rail traffic across the length and breadth of the country.
More than 3,200 express trains were cancelled between June 17 and July 23 resulting in 50,000 ticket refunds per day losses over Rs 1,230 crore.
A major fire that destroyed the route relay interlocking (RRI) cabin at Itarsi. The RRI cabin that was due for replacement in 1998 was continued with for over 17 years. The RRI accident also could have been avoided if a smoke detector been installed.