Central Railway battling Uttarakhand-like tragedy at Sindi Rly station

SINDI: With 500m railway track hanging in mid-air, sleepers damaged and electric poles twisted out of shape by a cloudburst on Friday night, some 1,000 workmen and officials of Central Railway are racing to restore train services near Sindi station. The earliest estimate for trains to start running on at least one track is Monday afternoon, with complete normalcy on both tracks not expected until Thursday. The stretch of damaged tracks is used by all trains passing via Nagpur in every direction.

The Uttarakhand-like floods hit the crucial stretch of tracks a kilometre away from Sindi station. Flooding in Pipra nullah and one more stream 200 metres away reached its peak at 7.45pm on Friday. The rushing nullah water damaged 500m tracks, left six overhead electric poles (OHE) twisted out of shape, and washed away the entire earthen foundation on which the railway tracks rest.

The bridge over Pipra nullah was also washed away, leaving the tracks hanging and bent. The optical fibre network cable laid along the tracks was also damaged.

On Sunday morning, work to restore the tracks was underway on a war footing. At least 12-15 heavy earthmoving machines were at work, putting boulders in place and dumping soil and ballast to fill the four-metre wide gap left beneath the tracks by flood waters. Six inflatable air bags were deployed to lift the tracks and allow work to continue below it. Two freight trains were standing ready with boulders and ballast required to rebuild the foundation from the ground up.

The workers were also pushing metal clips into the foundation to stabilize it as much as possible. Simultaneously, work to restore the OHE poles was also going on. By 5.45pm on Sunday, sources said electric works had been completed.

The mishap site looked chaotic with at least 1,000 men and officials from medical, electrical, signalling, engineering, mechanical, commercial and operating departments of the railways at work simultaneously. Gangmen and trolleymen have been summoned from the entire division to work in eight-hour shifts.

The spot is inaccessible for vehicles, and the earthmoving machines made their way along the nullah through farms.

“We are facing a disaster situation similar to Uttarakhand. Our aim is to first restore one track for traffic,” Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Brijesh Dixit told at the mishap site. It may take another two-three days to open the other line.

“On Friday and Saturday, it was a tightrope walk for staff at work along the tracks hanging over the receding waters of Pipra nullah 40-feet below. Any error would have landed the workers straight in the nullah,” said Rajesh Dwivedi, senior divisional mechanical engineer (SrDME), Nagpur.

Dixit said this is perhaps the first time in 160 years of railways that train traffic to the entire country passing through centrally located Nagpur came to a grinding halt for so many hours. Even the Railway Board has expressed serious concern about the incident. Central Railway general manager BP Khare too visited the spot on Sunday afternoon.

Dixit, who was among the first to reach the mishap site at around 11pm, and is camping there since Friday, suspects that opening the gates at Bor or Wadgaon dam might have contributed to the flood. “The sudden cloudburst coupled with opening of two gates of a nearby dam led to the tragedy,” said Dixit.

However, Wardha district collector N Navin Sona denied any dam gates were opened. “Water running off from nearby hillocks at Khadki flowed through Pipra causing the floods. A 30-feet road between Sindi and Seldoh too has been washed away due to the Pipra floods,” Sona said.

Sona added that Sindi Railway recorded 245mm rain on Friday. The erratic rainfall distribution coupled with cloudburst led to flooding of two streams near the railway tracks, he said.

Dixit said a four-member team consisting of safety, engineering, electrical and traction department heads will probe reasons behind the tragedy. He also said they are contemplating coming up with a permanent solution at the spot to avoid such a situation in the future.

Meanwhile, train traffic was disrupted for the third day, with 12 express and passenger trains originating from Gondia and Nagpur cancelled on Sunday. However, seven trains including Vidarbha, LTT, Azad Hind, Mail, Duronto and Sevagram Express were running via Bhusawal, Khandwa, Itarsi and Nagpur. The Jabalpur-Amravati Express was being terminated at Nagpur.

The Nagpur-Nanded-Mumbai Nandigram Express for Monday has been cancelled. Over 39 trains coming from South and West direction have been routed through Bhusawal while another seven trains passed via Badnera, Amravati and Narkhed, without touching Nagpur. Dixit said passengers coming from Delhi to Nagpur are being accommodated in trains coming from Bhusawal.