'Driver did not see crowd due to smoke'

The driver of the train that crashed around 60 people on Friday night at Amritsar could not see the tracks due to smoke from the burning effigy, said top railway officials on Saturday.

“There was so much smoke that the driver was unable to see anything and he was also negotiating a curve,” said an official explaining why the driver was unable to apply emergency brakes when such a huge crowd had gathered on the tracks. 

“The DMU (diesel multiple unit) train between Jalandhar and Amritsar was running at its assigned speed. After the manned level crossing was closed, there was a green signal. This is an indication to the driver that the track was OK and he can run the train at the assigned speed,” said the official. “The smoke from the crackers in the effigy spread everywhere and the visibility was poor at that moment. And since the driver had to negotiate a curve, he couldn’t apply emergency brakes suddenly,” said the official.

Moreover, since it was dark and there was smoke everywhere, the driver couldn’t spot the crowd on or near the tracks, the official said, adding that had local authorities alerted the railways about the celebration and the huge gathering, they could have informed the driver to check the speed.

Nearly 60 Dasara revellers were mowed down by a train while they were standing on the tracks and watching the burning of the Ravana effigy near Amritsar. “The driver also explained to railway officials that he had pressed the horn but the crowd could not hear it due to the sound of the crackers. However, he reduced the speed from 90 kmph to 65 kmph,” a senior official told DH.

The tragedy led to disruption of rail services on the route with the railways cancelling 37 trains and diverting 16. Officials said 10 mail/express trains and 27 passenger trains were cancelled. While 16 trains were diverted, 18 trains were short terminated.

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