Rajdhani becomes Naxals' soft target

On Monday midnight, it was a close shave for the 462 passengers of UP Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express, when eight of its bogies, along with the engine, derailed near Gaya in Bihar after the suspected naxalites blew up the railway tracks. But all those on board, besides thanking god, were also recalling one of the worst railway mishaps which occurred on Sept 11, 2002 and claimed the lives of 125 passengers.

The naxalites had blown up the bridge on Dhawa river near Rafiganj station (near Gaya) just before the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express was to cross from there. As the train turned turtle and the coaches tumbled into the Dhawa river, 125 persons lost their lives and an equal number of passengers sustained grievous injuries.

Naxal zone
Though both the Rajdhani mishaps took place near Gaya, a naxal-infested zone, there is a huge difference between the 2002 train accident and the one which occurred on Monday. The previous Rajdhani coaches were not designed to cope with the accidents of severe magnitude. But this time, when the Rajdhani, running at a speed of 75 km per hour got derailed on March 22, it did not turn turtle. Reason: It had the LHB German coaches which are technologically designed to remain stuck to the ground even after the wheels fall of the track. “The coaches made of German technique have been designed in such a way that the impact of the friction during the accidents is equally distributed to the entire train. This minimises the jerk, thereby saving precious lives,” a senior railway engineer explained.

But then why target train passengers for no fault of theirs? The naxalites, with allegiance to the CPI (Maoists), think that those who travel by Rajdhani are bourgeois class — rich, powerful and famous. Any attack on them would not only fetch them rich dividends (in the form of wide publicity), but also spread the message of ‘class war’.

It is precisely with this backdrop in mind that the CPI (Maoists), in its earlier avatar of People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoists Communists Centre (MCC), had attacked Rajdhani several times in the last 15 years. The first such attempt to derail Rajdhani on this Grand Chord section was made on Feb 20, 1996, when the naxalites removed fish plates near Muthani station. Timely detection by an alert railway personnel prevented an impending mishap. Just a month later, fishplates were removed again on March 13, 1996, between Paraiya and Gurua stations. A goods train, which was running ahead of Rajdhani, derailed, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of passengers.

Again, on May 18, 2000, some unidentified naxalites dislocated the track near Ismailpur. However, shortly before the Rajdhani was to pass through the route, the mischief was detected and an imminent mishap averted.

Similarly, on March 31, 2001, suspected Maoists placed concrete sleepers on the tracks to derail the incoming Rajdhani express. However, the pilot engine bumped against the stumbling block, thereby averting yet another mishap.

The last noticeable unsuccessful attempt was made on Oct 16, 2004, when the naxalites placed detonators on the railway tracks. Mercifully, this too was detected shortly before the Rajdhani was to pass through the route.

On Monday midnight, when eight of the bogies got derailed but not a single casualty was reported, much of the credit goes to the driver of the ill-fated Rajdhani, RK Singh, who not only kept his nerves in tact but reduced the speed of the train from 120 km/hour to 75 km/hr before applying emergency brakes, thereby saving the lives of scores of passengers.

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