Shimla (SML): One of the most peaceful train journeys in India – the Unesco-recognised Kalka-Shimla heritage railway track – turned into the site of a tragedy on Saturday when three of the five bogeys of a chartered train derailed at Taksal near Parwanoo in Himachal Pradesh, killing passengers for the second time in its over-a-century-old history. Two of the 37 British and Canadian nationals who had booked special train were killed in the accident; 13 others were injured, two of them are seriously hurt.
Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu has ordered an investigation into the derailment. The two women killed in a train derailment in India were travelling as part of an escorted tour with York-based Great Rail Journeys.
India’s Union Minister of Railways Mr.Suresh Prabhu has expressed his condolences to their families. The deceased have been identified as Loraine Marrie Tonner, 55, and Joan Nicholas, 71. Sources said they died on the spot. The first time an accident turned fatal was in December 2008 when the derailment of three coaches in a tunnel in Solan killed a person.
Kalka-Shimla rail line was laid in 1903 and since then the toy train has been chugging along at a speed of 25 to 30 km an hour. Tourists encounter 917 sharp curves, 102 tunnels and 988 bridges on the 97-km journey. Unesco World Heritage status was accorded to the railway line in 2008.
Serious questions are being asked about the safety measures taken on the 112-year-old track given that at least two serious accidents have taken place in the past seven years prior to this one.
There were 37 people with the tour on the train, which had been chartered by the company for the trip. One of those was a tour manager with the company.
Peter Liney, Great Rail Journeys’ chief executive, said: “Two passengers and the tour manager have been admitted [to hospital] overnight; we do not believe their injuries are life-threatening. All other passengers have now been transferred to a hotel.”
He said the company was working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to assist the relatives of the two women who had been killed.
Himachal Governor, CM express grief over rail mishap
The chief minister said there were 37 passengers on board out of which 34 were from United Kingdom.
“We are in touch with the UK Embassy authorities,” he said in a statement here.
The train started its journey from Kalka Railway station at 12:45 on Saturday and it derailed 10 minutes later. Despite the slow speed, the impact of the derailment was such that at least one of the passengers crashed into a glass window, shattered it, and was thrown out of the bogey. His body was recovered from under the bogey ahead.
Sources added that the train may have gained a little speed on a curve not far from Kalka station, which may have caused the accident. Kalka station superintendent V K Arora said, “This train runs at a maximum speed of 28 km per hour with an average speed of 18 km. We had the driver and guard medically examined for alcohol but they were clean.”
Ambala divisional railway manager Dinesh Kumar who rushed to the spot said, “It’s impossible to tell the exact reason for the derailment right now but I have ordered an inquiry to find out the reason,”
Shimla-based historian Raja Bhasin, who was accompanying the tourists to Shimla, said, “I had just finished my lecture and had occupied my seat when suddenly a loud noise occurred and before we could understand what was happening there were cries of injured people all over and two were dead.”
The driver of the train, Dhan Singh, said, “I felt a sudden jolt on the curve and hit the breaks. I rushed to the derailed bogeys after informing the authorities and took out some of the passengers with the help of the guard.”
The injured after first aid at ESIC hospital in Parwanoo were shifted to Max Hospital in Chandigarh and condition of two injured persons is stated to be critical.