Sainthia (West Bengal): At least 61 people were killed and 117 injured when a speeding passenger train rammed into one that had just left Sainthia station in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, 186km from Kolkata, at around 2am on Monday.
The Kolkata-bound New Coochbehar-Sealdah Uttar Banga Express was trailing the Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express, which had just “started moving” after a scheduled stop, and rammed into it from behind.
Though Union rail minister Mamata Banerjee initially said the cause of the accident could only be determined through a detailed investigation, the railways said later the driver of the Uttar Banga Express, N.C. De, was responsible for the crash.
The driver jumped signals, Railway Board chairman Vivek Sahai said in Kolkata. Besides this, the train was travelling at around 90km per hour when it shouldn’t have been going faster than 20km per hour as it was to halt at Sainthia station.
De and two other railway officials were killed in the accident.
Fifty-eight-year old De was a “category A” driver, who joined the railways in 1975. Only 15-20% of the railways’ drivers are part of this elite group, according to Sahai.
“Even five minutes before the accident, he seemed to be alert,” he added. “We don’t know what happened after that.”
Two coaches of the Vananchal Express were worst affected—one was tossed up by the collision and landed on an overhead pedestrian bridge. There was no casualty among passengers of the Uttar Banga Express, the railways said in a statement.
The railways announced a compensation of Rs5 lakh each for the families of those killed in the accident, and Rs1 lakh for those injured. In addition, Banerjee said the railways will offer employment to one person from the family of each killed.
Had the Vananchal Express not been detained by traders getting off the train with their goods, the ill-fated train would have left long before the Kolkata-bound train reached Sainthia, according to local railway officials, who did not want to be named.
The Vananchal Express, which halts at Sainthia for just a minute, is often detained by traders, they added. Its scheduled arrival time at Sainthia is 8.54pm. On Monday, it arrived at around 1.40am, according to local railway officials.
This was the second major train accident in West Bengal in two months. On 28 May, in an accident blamed on Maoist insurgents, at least 150 people were killed when the train they were travelling in jumped the tracks and was hit by an oncoming goods train.
The death toll from Monday’s accident could rise because at least 59 people are battling life-threatening injuries, according to health officials.
There were 157 train accidents in India last year, according to Sahai. “This figure used to be around 300 five years ago,” he said, defending the railways on its safety initiatives.
The railways is increasingly facing sabotage, he added. “Since January this year, there have been five such cases, and in three of them people died.”
Sahil Makkar and Rahul Chandran in Delhi contributed to this story.