Criminal negligence in Utkal Derailment: 4 Engineers suspended, 3 top Officials sent on leave

Gangmen, employees who are recruited to maintain railway tracks, are asked to do personal chores of Railway Officers at railway their Bungalows, claim sources. Chores include buying vegetables for railway personnel, escorting kids to school, cleaning, washing and maintaining the bungalows etc. This could be one of the reasons behind the derailment of Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express on Saturday as these gangmen spend more time doing chores than maintain tracks; sources said.

NEW DELHI: Four engineers were suspended, three top officials — including the Northern Railway General Manager — were sent on leave, while another was transferred for Saturday’s train accident in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, in which 24 passengers were killed.

The action was taken after a Railway inquiry found the Permanent Way Department that checks the routes of regular trains responsible for the derailment of the high-speed Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express near Khatauli Railway station. The inquiry team informed the Railway Ministry that maintenance work was in progress at the accident site and tracks were being cut with the help of hexa blades. It had resulted in removal of some nuts and bolts and displacement of fish plates. The accident that left more than a hundred passengers wounded was caused by the toppling of the 13th coach, sources said.

Based on prima facie evidence, the ministry suspended a Junior Engineer, a Senior Section Engineer, an Assistant Engineer and a Senior Divisional Engineer. The Chief Track Engineer, Northern Railway, has been transferred, while the Northern Railway General Manager, the Divisional Railway Manager and the Member Engineering of the Railway Board have been sent on leave. Heads rolled after Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu asked the Railway Board Chairman to fix responsibility “by end of day.” An FIR was registered against unknown persons for causing death by negligence, mischief, and destruction of railway property.

Sources at Khatauli Raliway station said the tracks were under repair but authorities did not caution the driver to slow down. The train was running at 105 kmph when thirteen of its carriages jumped the tracks. The train does not stop at Khatauli, about 130 km north of Delhi. Trains passing through the Meerut line of the Northern Railway were either cancelled or diverted till 6 pm on Sunday.

The Railways has already approved a proposal to change about 200 metres of damaged tracks near Khatauli. The work on the project is on and trains on this route are supposed to be cautioned to run slow, sources said. Two coaches of the train crashed into a residential area, ramming a house and a college.

The Railways’ Additional Director General, BK Maurya, earlier in the day talked about two possibilities. “Either the train driver overlooked the caution board to slow or Railway authorities did not put up any caution board at all. In case of the second possibility, the station master should have called the driver or changed the track. He could have also given the stop signal to avert the derailment.”

Two trains had passed the tracks, before the accident, at 15 kmph without any problem, he said, adding, “Over-speeding and gross negligence by Khatauli station authorities seem to be prima facie case behind the derailment,” he said. This was the fourth major accident — third in UP — over the past year on the world’s fourth biggest rail network.

Maurya did not rule out the possibility of the driver applying the emergency brakes, reasons for which are under investigation by higher authorities. “Otherwise, the train would not have turned turtle or coaches piled on top of one another,” he said.

“Some maintenance work was going on, which might have caused the derailment,” Mohd Jamshed, Member Traffic, Railway Board, also said at a news briefing here.

“There is an audio clip of a conversation that we will probe. Also, when we did a site inspection, we saw some equipment of the railways used for track repair present there,” he said.

An eye-witness also supported the officials’ theory. “There was a deafening sound before the derailment as if the train hit something. It seemed that the driver saw something at the last moment and applied the emergency brakes,” he said.

Sources in the engineering division of the Railways claim that they had warned the Khatauli station authorities of repair work being carried out on the tracks. “We had no knowledge of technical problems,” Khatauli Station Superintendent Rajinder Singh, however, told a news channel.

Gangmen, employees who are recruited to maintain railway tracks, are asked to do personal chores at railway quarters, claim sources. Chores include buying vegetables for railway personnel, escorting kids to school, and maintaining the bungalows etc. This could be one of the reasons behind the derailment of Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express on Saturday as these gangmen spend more time doing chores than maintain tracks, sources add.

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