M A I N   N E W S

Tragedy on the Tracks
With train driver dead, probe may yield little
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi/Kolkata, July 20
An on-the-spot inquiry began today by the Commissioner of Railways (Safety), RP Yadav, into yesterday’s train accident at Sainthia in Birbhum district, 191 km from here. The death toll touched 64 today with one of the injured passengers succumbing to his injuries in the hospital.

Railway officials are trying to piece together a rather bewildering puzzle. Though a probe has been ordered, not much is likely to come out of it since both the driver and assistant driver of the ill-fated Uttarbanga Express are dead.

As Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee finds herself under the scanner for the increasing number of rail accidents, officials here said it would be hard to find answers to some basic questions, which have been thrown up after the accident. There have been as many as 16 train accidents in Mamata’s tenure as Railway Minister since July last and all the inquiries set up to go into the mishaps have not come up with much on as to how the tragedies could have been averted.

Sources said a major question that would be difficult to answer is why had the Sealdah-bound Uttarbanga Express clocked an unexplainable 60kmph at the outer signal when the speed there should have been brought down to around 20 kmph? Officials say at 60kmph it would have been near impossible to stop at the station.

While Mamata has hinted at “other reasons” behind the accident, officials point out that the Uttarbanga Express should have actually halted outside the station rather than entering the station at that speed. They also say that the train should have halted, as it was running 25 minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival time at Sainthia station.

Railway authorities have also been left perplexed as to why the driver and the assistant driver of the Uttarbanga Express failed to heed frantic announcements being made over the loudspeakers to control the speed of the train. The Ranchi-bound Vananchal Express, which was running five hours late, had just begun to leave the Sainthia station. This means another train cannot come on the same line as the signal would have been red for an incoming train at the outer. The ‘home signal’ was not given, claimed Assistant Station Master Chakraborty.

Officials are also trying to verify whether the signalling system had been tampered with. Even if the answer is yes, there are no answers available as to why the two trains were on the same line. Officials point out that on seeing the Uttarbanga Express coming at such a high speed, the assistant station master had reportedly used the loudspeakers at the station, asking the driver of the Uttarbanga to immediately apply brakes.

But officials have no answer as to why there was no reaction from the driver or his assistant? Officials are trying to verify whether the driver and the assistant driver were sleeping or not fully conscious?

But they also have the information that only a few minutes earlier, the driver of the Uttarbanga Express had correctly halted the train at the previous station. So how come he and his assistant went into a sudden sleep? Was Dey over-stressed? No, say railway officials. “Dey had an unblemished accident-free record and was promoted recently. Moreover, he had adequate rest before taking charge of the train at Malda station, five hours before the accident,” the official said.

Prior to the accident, Dey had a conversation with the Railway Station staff at Rampurhat, which falls just ahead of Sainthia, and that showed that he was in absolute control of the train, ruling out the possibility of his being inebriated, the official said.

In the past, judicial inquiries have been conducted into several train accidents. A CBI inquiry, however, was ordered into the recent Gyneshwari train accident near Jhargram in which 148 passenger were killed. In August, 1999, former Supreme Court judge G.N.Roy conducted a probe into the train collision at Ghainshal station near Siliguri in which some 250 passengers were killed.

(With inputs from Subhrangshu Gupta)





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