Human error or sabotage? Rlys in quandary

Authorities left perplexed as to why Uttarbanga Express drivers failed to heed announcements

More than 63 people are feared dead and 150 injured in an early morning collision between the Uttarbanga Express and Vananchal Express.

Questions that the railway bigwigs have been probing after the disaster include why the Sealdah-bound Uttarbanga Express that was 25 minutes ahead of its scheduled time of arrival at Sainthia, was travelling at such a high speed even though the train had a destined halt for a minute at the Sainthia station.

Since the Ranchi-bound Vananchal Express that was running five hours late, had just begun to leave the platform number four where Uttarbanga was slated to roll in, the red signal would have been there and Uttarbanga Express would have stopped automatically.

Subsequently, questions like ‘was the signalling system tampered?’ are now plaguing the minds of the authorities.

“We announced repeatedly over the loudspeakers asking the driver of the Uttarbanga Express to apply brakes as the Vananchal Express was just starting to leave the platform,” said assistant station master of Sainthia, Pulak Chakraborty.

“Nothing can be ruled out. It may also be possible that our equipment might have been tampered with,” said Eastern Railways general manager V N Tripathy. “The Commissioner of Railway Safety is holding an inquiry after which we will be able to know what exactly happened.”

Even then, the speed with which the Uttarbanga Express entered the station is highly questionable as no express train that is to halt at a station, would maintain that speed. And this has precisely given rise to another query. Was the driver or the assistant driver or even both in a state of ‘semi-consciousness’?

“What caused the accident is a mystery to us. The driver of the Uttarbanga Express was a very good driver. He had stopped the train properly at previous station. We are puzzled.”

The ‘home signal’ was not given, claimed Chakraborty and the Uttarbanga just rammed into the rear of the Vananchal Express with a loud bang.

A cabinman, who requested anonymity, blamed the accident on the Uttarbanga driver. Within a trice after the collision, the platform number four and its adjoining areas were cluttered with tinned condiments, plastic bangles and towels that lay strewn over the place. Three motorbikes, wrapped in jute bags, were lying on the tracks.

‘Strong suspicion’
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who reached the site of the mishap, expressed her “strong suspicion” over the cause of the disaster. “We have some doubts in our mind. Whatever happened is apparently not an unorchestrated development. We will take every possible strong measure to unearth the culprits behind this,” she said.

When pressed to elaborate, she declined, but added that she has already ordered an inquiry. The railways, according to her, will investigate why the Uttarbanga Express was travelling 25 minutes before time.

She also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh and employment to one member of each family of the dead. The seriously injured would receive Rs 1 lakh and those with minor injuries Rs 25,000, she said.

The incident comes within two months of the Gyaneshwari train sabotage near Jhargram that left 148 dead. Referring to the Gyaneshwari Express disaster, Banerjee said two accidents within a span of two months was unfortunate.

Incidentally, this was the first time that the Left Front government announced a compensation of Rs 3 lakh for each of the dead.

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