Harda | Twenty-nine people were killed when two express trains passing each other derailed while crossing a railway bridge struck by flash floods in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh in the dead of night sending 17 bogies and one engine tumbling into a rain-swollen river.
The twin derailment that occurred at around the same time at about 1130 pm last night involved the Varanasi-bound Kamayani Express from Mumbai, which capsized first, and the Mumbai-bound Janta express originating from Patna that was coming from the opposite direction.
Officials said that 25 people were injured and over 250 passengers have been rescued.
There were conflicting versions on the exact number of casualties in the accident that occurred between Khirkiya and Bhirangi stations on Khandwa-Itarsi sections, 160 km from Bhopal after the 500-metre rail tracks over a small bridge sank in sudden surge of water caused by heavy rains in the area.
29 bodies, including those of 13 men, 11 women and five children, have been recovered so far from the mishap site, about 160 km from Bhopal, MP Government spokesman Anupam Rajan said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, however, told Parliament that as per available information 12 passengers were killed.
Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Bhopal, Alok Kumar said that 11 passengers of Janta Express and one from Kamayani Express were found dead.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said 25 passengers were killed in the mishap and 50 others injured. Twelve bodies were found inside the derailed train bogies, he told reporters at the mishap site.
Prabhu said that a flash flood caused the swollen Machak river to overflow and wash out a section of the rail tracks, leading to the derailment of the two trains. The prima facie cause of the incident is stated to be ‘flash flood due to heavy rains’, Prabhu told the Rajya Sabha amid the din by slogan-shouting opposition members.
Passengers said they were thrown awake by the falling bogies which quickly filled with muddy water.
We felt the jerk instantly. When we opened the door and checked, there was water everywhere. In no time, the train tilted. And we all got trapped and were stuck for three hours, a survivor said.
The water level on the track was almost waist-high, said another survivor.
A correspondent at the site saw some bogies lay fallen on one side and others leaning in the mud. Tracks were broken, uprooted and scattered, and a detached train wheel was visible in one section.
Though the MP government said that 21 coaches of the two trains derailed, Alok Kumar said seven bogies of the Janta Express plus engine and 10 of Kamayani Express had derailed.
Prima facie it appears that the cause behind the mishap was heavy rains that was never witnessed in Harda region in my recent memory. Due to it, base material under the tracks got washed out and the overhead contact of the engine got disconnected because of which the trains got stranded on the tracks over the bridge on Machak river, Chouhan said.
The Railway Ministry has ordered an inquiry into the twin derailment and announced an enhanced ex-gratia of Rs two lakh each to the next of the kin of deceased.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed distress and pain over the loss of lives in the twin derailment and said authoritiesare doing everything possible on the ground.
Railway Spokesperson Anil Saxena said just eight minutes before the accident, two trains had crossed that section and their drivers did not detect any problem. Commissioner Railway Safety (central zone) will conduct an inquiry into the accidents, he added.
Services of more than 50 trains were affected due to the mishap as many were diverted and short-terminated.
The 500-metre rail track which caved in not among the vulnerable sections identified by the Railways during monsoon, a top Railway official said.
Railways undertake pre-monsoon preparation every year on vulnerable section as precautionary measure and the derailment spot was not among those identified sections, Chairman Railway Board (CRB) A K Mital said in Delhi.
Blaming the sudden surge of water as possible cause of the derailment, Mital said, One cannot rule out natural calamity and the flash flood caused extensive damage to the track which resulted in the derailment. The track was otherwise alright and two trains crossed the track just eight minutes before the incident.
He said there were reports of overflowing of a nearby dams but it will be known only after the submission of the inquiry report.
Ruling out any defect in the bridge, Mital said there was regular patrolling on the section and no train is allowed to cross defective bridge.
Asked whether the typical soil of the area played a role in breach of tracks, Mittal said black cotton soil of the area was strengthened before laying the track as a standard procedure for rail laying process.
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