24 dead, 60 hurt in rail mishap
Mumbai, June 16
According to Konkan Railway officials the mishap occurred a little after 6 am between the Roha and Vir stations in the treacherous Western Ghat section of Raigad district, about 200 km a from Mumbai.
The train which was scheduled to arrive at the Kurla Terminus railway station at 6.40 am was running late by nearly two hours as its speed was lowered due to the downpour, according to railway officials there.
Officials said heavy rain in the past few days had dislodged huge boulders that rolled down from the hills onto the tracks minutes before the train was to pass on the single-track route. The engine of the Matsyagandha Express travelling at 90 km per hour collided with a huge boulder and jumped the bridge. The impact of the collision carried the engine past the embankment on the side of the bridge and near a village road below.
While three coaches were thrown on either side of the bridge two others were hanging precariously from the bridge. “It will take us till Thursday to clear the track,” Konkan Railway Corporation Chairman and Managing Director B. Rajaram told reporters at the accident site.
Local villagers and Konkan Railway employees pulled most of the dead and injured persons out of the coaches in the first three hours. “We heard a loud noise and rushed out of houses only to see the train derailed,” Vinod Gawde, a local village youth, said. Loitering in the area of the mishap, Gawde told reporters that teams of villagers rushed with water and medical aid to assist the victims of the mishap.
“We got out our Tata Sumos and Tempo Traxes to take people to hospital,” says Ashok Waghmare, another local resident. He was however critical of the police for coming late to the accident spot. “They came only at around 8 in the morning two hours after the accident,” he told reporters.
Waghmare and his neighbours managed to rescue more than 250 passengers from the derailed coaches that were hanging from the bridge. Passengers in eight coaches of the train that were still standing on the tracks had a miraculous escape. The passengers were seen hailing private transport and state transport buses from nearby bus stations for their onward journey home.
With most passengers leaving for home on their own, the Railways cancelled a special train that was to bring them to Kurla terminus.
The driver and assistant driver of the train have been admitted to hospital with serious injuries.
The scene at the Mahad Government Hospital and the Ranade Hospital, 40 km away, presented a picture of confusion. Doctors here were advising passengers to take their injured relatives to hospitals in Panvel, Navi Mumbai and even Mumbai for treatment. Passengers who were rushed to a hospital in Panvel, 150 km away, alleged that there were neither enough doctors nor medicines at the Mahad Government Hospital.
Meanwhile Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Deputy Chief Minister Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil have rushed to the spot.
The Maharashtra government meanwhile announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 to the kin of the deceased and Rs 25,000 for those injured in the mishap. The Railway Ministry is providing a compensation of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000 respectively.
Confusion and anger prevailed at the Kurla and Panvel railway stations where anxious relatives gathered to inquire about their loved ones.
“It took them several hours to get the names of the dead and injured right,” said Troy Ribeiro who waited all morning for information about his friends. However by mid-day helplines were fully functional and names of the injured persons admitted to various hospitals were clearly put up at the Kurla railway terminus.
Wednesday’s accident was the second in less than a year on the Konkan Railway route which became operational in the 1990s. Last year in a similar accident 51 persons lost their lives when the 904 Karwar-Mumbai Central Holiday Special derailed near Ratnagiri after hitting some boulders.
“We had enclosed more than 3 lakh square metres of hillsides in tough imported wire mesh,” Rajaram said. A trained engineerhimself, Rajaram had supervised implementation of the enhanced safety measures. “Our best efforts have been defeated by nature...Our engineers did our best but then they are not gods,” a visibly shaken Rajaram said at the accident site.
Explaining the safety measures Rajaram added that the corporation had covered all cuttings of 10 metres and above with wire mesh. “But this is a small seven-metre cutting and nobody thought that such a big stone could come out of this area,” Rajaram said.
“Though the Konkan Railways have been built for nearly a decade the terrain is yet to stabilise,” a former Konkan Railway engineer from Goa told this reporter. According to him it would take several years for the soil and rock formations to stabilise and a heavy downpour would always be a cause for concern on this route for decades to come.
Meanwhile the Konkan Railway has cancelled or diverted trains on the route. Many of the trains will be delayed as they take the old longer route via Pune, officials said. Even the prestigious Rajdhani Express connecting southern India to Delhi will be running late till services are restored, officials said.