Terror on wheels grips passengers

RANCHI: Passengers are apprehensive of travelling by train following Thursday’s Maoist attack on the Dhanbad-Patna Inter City Express because there is either a few or no police personnel found on board.

With 40% shortage, the Railway Protection Force (RPF), which is entrusted with railway security, is facing manpower crunch in Ranchi division. This is the reason why all important trains are not covered even in areas where rebels’ writ rules.

A large stretch of railway tracks (around 60%) pass through the Red-hit areas in the state where rebels frequently blow up tracks, attack trains and also often hijack them.

Passengers of Ranchi Bhagalpur Express (18603) that passes through Jamui district in Bihar where the incident occurred were scared while leaving the Ranchi railway station on Friday.

Rajesh Kumar Singh, a banker, said, “I am now seriously thinking of moving out of the state. Bihar and Jharkhand have now become unsafe for the common man as the Maoists are not even sparing them.” Singh was travelling with his family to attend an urgent gathering in Bhagalpur.

“I am scared to travel by the same route. I wonder why the Maoists have become so insensitive that now they are attacking civilians,” said Rupa Ganguly, a student who travels on the train which was scheduled to cross Jamui around 11pm on Friday. The RPF personnel are to board the train at Muri.

Not all important trains are provided police escort in Jharkhand, although officers do not disclose such information citing its sensitivity. “Trains are provided escorts according to the need and the importance of the routes. The security personnel are on alert after the Bihar incident,” said additional director general, Government Railway Police, A K Sinha.

In Jharkhand, all 24 districts are sensitive areas with a strong presence of Left-wing extremists. Sources in the Ranchi division of the railways say around 40% posts for constables, head constables and other personnel are vacant at RPF. “All the trains which run on sensitive railway lines are being escorted,” said senior RPF commandant (Ranchi) A K Das.

Trains in the state have always been a soft target for rebels. On April 7, hundreds of Rajdhani Express passengers had a close shave when Maoists blew up the track in Latehar. In May 2012, the rebels had blown up the tracks in Dhanbad.

Twice in 2009, once in 2006 and once in 2005, the rebels had hijacked passenger trains passing through the jungles though they did not harm passengers. Most of these incidents have taken place in Jharkhand’s important CIC section of the railways.