Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TUESDAY, JULY 20, 2010

67 killed in train smash
Raktima Bose
At least 67 persons were killed and 121 injured when the Sealdah-bound New Cooch Behar-Sealdah Uttarbanga Express rammed the rear of the stationary Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express at the Sainthia station in the early hours of Monday.
The engine of the Uttarbanga Express and the parcel van and two general compartments of the Vananchal Express were completely destroyed. So great was the impact of the collision that one of the general compartments was flung over the footbridge of the station.
The drivers of the Uttarbanga Express, M.C. Dey and M.K. Mondal, and the guard of the Vananchal Express, A. Mukherjee, were among those killed.
While most of those injured persons were admitted to the Suri hospital, some of them were shifted to hospitals in Bardhaman district and Kolkata.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the accident site and announced an ex gratia of Rs. 5 lakh to the relatives of those killed and a job to one from each bereaved family.
Ms. Banerjee termed the incident “unfortunate” and ordered an inquiry.
The disaster occurred within two months of the May 28 derailment of the Jnaneswari Express in Paschim Medinipur district, that killed 150 people.
According to Eastern Railway’s General Manager V.N. Tripathy, the Vananchal Express was at Platform 4 around 1.50 a.m. when the Uttarbanga Express rammed it at high speed.
“What happened is something very unusual. The Uttarbanga Express had a scheduled stop here but was still running at a very high speed. We are not ruling out any possibility, including sabotage. Commissioner of Railway Safety R.P. Yadav has already initiated an inquiry,” Mr. Tripathy said.
Most of the passengers of the general compartments of the Vananchal Express were asleep when the incident took place.
Officials of the State’s Criminal Investigation Department inspected the spot in the evening.
Rescue operations continued throughout the day, with the Army’s disaster management team joining hands with railway and police officials to extricate the bodies.

Mishap a case of neglect; PM should take a call: CPI(M)

Attacking Railway Minister and rival Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee over spate of train accidents, the CPI(M) on Monday said the latest mishap in West Bengal was a clear case of negligence and asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “take a call” on issue.
Terming Ms. Banerjee’s statement suggesting that the accident could be an act of sabotage as “highly irresponsible”, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the accident in Sainthia was “clearly a case of negligence. There has been no act of sabotage, nothing has been removed.
“You have a Minister whose attention is elsewhere and the country is paying the price for that”, he said “this is something which cannot be accepted in the collective responsibility of the Cabinet.
“The Prime Minister has to take a call. It is high time he takes a call because in the past one year, the highest numbers of railway accidents have taken place,” Mr. Yechury claimed.
Replying to questions, he said “it is for the Prime Minister to take whatever action he deems fit and for the people to judge“.
“Earlier the Minister used to say that somebody else has caused the accident. But here is a train standing at a station and another hits it from behind.... what about the anti-collision devices and other high technology which was promised in the (Railway) budget.”
Asked whether the CPI(M) would demand Ms. Banerjee’s resignation, he said “asking for resignation is meaningless because in this government, the levels of political morality is so low that it does not matter” and added that what is required was rectification of the situation.
“People will have to see and call spade a spade. They have to see how things have been allowed to degenerate because of this high level of neglect”, Mr. Yechury said.
In a statement, the CPI (M) Polit Bureau expressed shock and sorrow at the Railway accident and conveyed deep condolences to the families of those killed and sympathy to those injured.
“The number of rail accidents has been unprecedented in the last one year. Maintenance of equipment and safety measures are being neglected in the railways,” the party said.
“One lakh jobs in safety related jobs remain vacant. The government cannot keep quiet about the present state of affairs in the railways,” the CPI (M) said.

"Sorry ... it is not a casual thing," says Mamata

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee raised suspicions about the cause of the second major train accident in West Bengal saying "We have some doubt in our mind. Whatever happened is not casual thing".
“We are really sorry for this incident … it is not a casual thing. We will take necessary action and strong steps will be taken against whoever is found responsible,” Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said after inspecting the accident site here on Monday.
Ms. Banerjee described the incident as “unfortunate.” She apologised for the quick succession of rail tragedies in West Bengal in the last two months. A high-level inquiry would be conducted into the Monday's accident, she said.
Ms. Banerjee, who visited the spot where the Uttarbanga Express and the Vananchal Express were involved in an accident, said on Monday that whether to demand a CBI probe would be taken only after the Commissioner of Railway Safety concluded an inquiry. Earlier, while leaving for Sainthia from Sealdah, Ms. Banerjee told journalists that she had “certain doubts” over the incident. She also visited the Suri hospital where the injured were being treated and reiterated the promise of ex gratia payment.
West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta also visited the accident site and announced the State government's decision to pay Rs.3 lakh to the kin of those killed and bear the medical expenses of the injured.
“We [the State government] demand a serious inquiry into the incident so that the perpetrators are brought to book,” he said.
West Bengal PCC president Manas Bhunia said the authorities should work together for relief and rescue operations than engage in “cheap politics.”

Brakes not touched; circumstances ‘out of normal:' Board chief
Ananya Dutta
Both loco pilot and assistant of Uttarbanga Express were sitting in their chairs; no effort made to jump out
Pointing out anomalies in the events leading up to Monday's train collision at Sainthia in West Bengal, Railway Board Chairman Vivek Sahay did not rule out the possibility of sabotage and hinted at “willful interference.”
The circumstances of the accident were “out of normal,” he said and emphasised that the “brakes were not touched.”
“According to prima facie reports, we know that the brakes were not applied. The emergency brake was also not applied. Both the loco pilot and the assistant loco pilot were sitting in their chairs; no effort has been made to jump out of the train,” Mr. Sahay told journalists here after visiting the site along with senior board officials.
Speed restriction
The accident must have occurred just after 2.01 a.m. when the Uttarbanga Express, running at 90 km an hour, rammed the Vananchal Express from behind, he said. At 1.8 km from the Sainthia station, there was a bridge on which there was a speed restriction of 30 km per hour.
Also, since Sainthia was a scheduled stop for the Uttarbanga Express, the train should have approached the station at 30 or 40 km an hour.
Secondly, the driver of the Uttarbanga Express and his assistant also ignored the ‘stop' home signal. Even if the driver had ignored it, the assistant driver could have applied the emergency brakes, Mr. Sahay said.
“Why was the train travelling so fast? What went wrong,” asked Mr. Sahay, adding this would be “the focus of investigations.”
Mr. Sahay also ruled out the possibility of brake failure because the Uttarbanga Express had stopped at the previous station, at Gadadhar, minutes before the accident. It had arrived at Gadadhar at 1.54 a.m. and departed at 1.56 a.m.“Its driver, M.C. Dey, was an ‘A' category driver — a category given to the best drivers for safety. His safety record had been exceptionally good,” Mr. Sahay said.
The guard was traumatised and could not be interrogated so far, Mr. Sahay said.
Frequency of accidents
On being asked about the frequency of accidents, several of them in the past few months, Mr. Sahay claimed that in fact the average accident rate had declined, but several incidents on mail and express trains occurred leading to higher causalities.
“Many of them have been found to have been caused by wilful interference. There have been five cases of accidents by wilful interference since January this year … Up to now, no Railway employee has been found to be involved,” he said.

Nobody can predict accident, says Pranab
Senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee on Monday sought to dismiss suggestions that Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s absence from her Ministry was the reason for recurrence of train accidents.
“Accidents are accidents. Nobody can predict, that’s why it is an accident. I don’t think so,” he told reporters when asked whether the country needs a full time Railway Minister as there was another accident in less than two months.
More than 60 people are feared dead and 90 injured in an early morning collision between Uttarbanga Express and Vananchal Express that took place at Sainthia station in Birbhum district of West Bengal.
Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has condoled the loss of lives in the train accident in Sainthia and conveyed her deep condolences to the bereaved families and wished speedy recovery to the injured.
On May 28, 148 people had lost their lives in another accident in the state when the Jnaneshwari express had met with an accident near Jhargram, with the Railway minister alleging a ‘political conspiracy’ behind it.

Sabotage not ruled out : Eastern Rly GM
The Railways today did not rule out the possibility of sabotage in the train collision involving Uttarbanga Express and the Vananchal Express here that claimed the lives of at least 60 passengers.
“Nothing can be ruled out. Ho sakta hai hamara equipment se chherchhar hui ho. Ye sab janch ke bad pata chalega (It may be possible that our equipment might have been tampered with. It will be known only after inquiry),” Eastern Railways General Manager V. N. Tripathy told PTI.
“The Commissioner of Railway safety is holding an inquiry after which we will be able to know what exactly happened.”
To another question, he said that the Uttarbanga Express, which rammed into the rear of Vananchal Express, seemed to be running at a much higher speed than it was supposed to while entering the Sainthia station.
“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 Eastern Railways general manager said.
At least 60 people have been killed and over 90 injured in the train accident today.
“The toll may rise as some are still battling for life in hospital,” he said.
Mr. Tripathy said all the bodies had been extricated from the damaged compartments and all injured rescued.
“There is no one in any of the affected coaches. We have checked them,” he said.
A team of National Disaster Relief Force is at the site with sniffer dogs to trace anyone who was still trapped.
Altogether 167 army men and officers arrived with doctors and para-medical staff from nearby Panagarh and Kanchrapara army stations.
The team members included engineers and metal cutting specialists.
The engine of the Uttarbanga express was totally damaged after it rammed into the rear of the Vananchal Express in Sainthia station in Birbhum district. The luggage van of the Vananchal Express split into two and lay beside the track.

Paswan demands judicial probe
LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan on Monday demanded a judicial probe into the train mishap in Birbhum district of West Bengal and blamed Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee for the accident which left 60 people dead and over 90 others injured.
“It is a serious lapse on the part of the Railways...There were no Naxal activities and no fog even then such a major accident occurred,” Mr. Paswan told reporters here.
The former Railway Minister demanded a judicial probe into the incident.
Alleging that Ms. Banerjee was concentrating on poll-bound West Bengal alone at the cost of the Railways, Mr. Paswan asked her to make her stand clear whether she would focus only on her home state or look after the affairs of her ministry.
At least 60 people were killed and over 90 passengers injured when a train in high speed tore through the rear of another at the Sainthia station in Bhirbhum district, after it apparently overshot the signal in the small hours of the day.

Loudspeaker announcements failed to halt Uttarbanga Express

Authorities at Sainthia station made frantic announcements over loudspeakers to the driver of the Uttarbanga Express moments before it tore into the Vananchal Express here on Monday.
“We announced repeatedly over loudspeakers asking the driver of the Uttarbanga Express to brake as the Vananchal Express was just starting to leave platform No. 4,” Assistant station master of Sainthia Pulak Chakraborty told reporters.
Mr. Chakraborty said that the Uttarbanga Express entered the station at a high speed on the same track as the Vananchal Express although the ‘home signal’ was not given.
The Uttarbanga Express, which was to halt at the station, entered at a high speed and collided on the rear of the Vananchal Express with a loud bang, Salam Sheik, a hawker, said.
“We ran for safety at first, but returned to help with the rescue operations,” he said.
A cabinman, who preferred anonymity, said that the Uttarbanga Express driver was at fault.
After the collision, tinned condiments, gutkha pouches, plastic bangles, plastic torchlights, mineral water bottles, scarfs and towels were found strewn on the platform and the tracks.
Three motorbikes, wrapped in jute bags, were also lying on the tracks.
Eyewitnesses claimed that these were being unloaded from the vendor compartments of the Vananchal Express, which was already running five hours late.
Uttarbanga driver violated red signal: Signal in-charge

The driver of the Uttarbanga Express was alerted by the station master that a train was already there on the tracks but he violated the red signal, Rehmat Ali, the signal in-charge of the Sainthia station where the deadly collision took place claimed on Tuesday.
“I am sure that the signal was red. But the driver violated the red signal and entered the platform. No one in Uttarbanga Express, neither the driver nor the guard contacted me saying that brake was not working,” he said.
He said the station master alerted the driver of the Uttarbanga Express over walkie talkie and asked him to stop the train as the signal was red and there was already a train on the platform.
“But he got no response and within 30 seconds, the two trains collided,” he said.
Recounting the moments before the Sealdah-bound Uttarbanga Express rammed into the Vananchal Express, he said that within 30 seconds of the Vananchal Express moving out from the platform, he got a call from the voice cabin that another train was entering the platform.
“I did not know which train it was. Because Vananchal Express was already there on platform number four and no train can enter the platform unless it is cleared,” he said.
Assistant station master of Sainthia Pulak Chakraborty had yesterday said that the Uttarbanga Express entered the station at a high speed on the same track as the Vananchal Express although the ‘home signal’ was not given.
A cabin man, who preferred anonymity, had said that the Uttarbanga Express driver was at fault.
Sixty-three people, including the driver and assistant driver of the Uttaranga Express, were killed and 92 others injured in the collision.
Terrible train of accidents
Fourteen railway accidents in ten months, the second in West Bengal in two months. But this time the Railways cannot blame the Maoists, who were behind the blast in the track that resulted in a serious derailment and the death of 146 passengers on May 28. In the wee hours of Monday, about 190 km from Kolkata, a speeding Uttar Banga Express rammed into the Vananchal Express that was just leaving the Sainthia station. The fundamental safety procedure in the Railways is that when a track is occupied, the signalling system will not let in another train. There have been no reports of any sabotage. So there can be only two possible reasons for the latest tragedy on the tracks that claimed at least 60 lives: the driver of the Uttar Banga Express, who died in the collision, either disregarded the signal; or the signal failed. For all that, the Uttar Banga Express was supposed to stop at that station. So what could explain the speed at which it entered the very same platform from which the other Express train was just about to leave? The impact of the crash was such that one of the Vananchal Express coaches mounted the pedestrian overbridge ahead of it. As the tragedy occurred some time between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., the passengers must have been fast asleep and rescue operations also took some time to get under way. Two of the Vananchal Express coaches that took the impact were unreserved compartments; so even the number of passengers in them, not to mention the identity of the dead, took some time to establish. In addition to the Railway relief teams, the Army sent a special contingent to help with the rescue effort, which involved the use of cutters to extricate bodies.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is clearly not up to the job of ensuring safety on the tracks. Against the backdrop of tragedy, her modus has been to use the Maoist-caused railway accidents in West Bengal to blame the Left Front government. Her predecessors at the Rail Bhavan lost no time in accusing her of neglect and asking her to choose between Bengal politics and the Railway Ministry. The stream of accidents in recent months is a stark reminder that the Indian Railways needs to do substantially more to ensure safety and security on the tracks. Whether it was a signal failure or a human error this time, the Railway administration must urgently address the key issues — the modernisation of safety equipment, the maintenance of track and signals, the failure of top management to put in place state-of-the-art ‘fail-safe mechanisms,' and the re-training and fitness of the staff, especially drivers, their assistants, guards, and those at the stations — to prevent the recurrence of such mishaps.


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