A speeding train rear-ended another train at the Sainthia station in Birbhum district, 190 kilometres from Kolkata. Both trains were bizarrely on the same track. (See Pictures)
The Railways says the accident was probably caused due to human error. The Uttarbanga driver most likely overshot a critical signal near the station at around 2 am on Monday. Witnesses say they shouted at him to stop, but he was going so fast, that he could not brake in time. He hit the Vananchal Express that was pulling out of Platform 4.The Uttarbanga Express driver has died.
Railway Board Chairman Vivek Sahay said the
driver was experienced and could not have committed such mistake .
."We do not know whether the signal was given. Even if the signal was given, the train has to stop at Sainthia," Sahay said. (Watch: Report from Ground Zero | One bogey mounts another, roof on overbridge | Read: Unanswered questions on cause of train accident)
The collision was so severe that the roof and sides of one of the compartments of the Vananchal Express were slammed onto an overhead bridge for pedestrians. A part of another compartment of the Vananchal Express split and fell on the road along the tracks after being thrown over the bridge.
The Army was sent in for rescue operations. (Read: 7 Army officers, 160 jawans at accident site)
Bodies were rescued from the wreckage with equipment like gas cutters. Villagers in the area were the first to try and rescue passengers. (Read: Gas cutters used to take out 32 bodies | Shortage of blood, 175 bottles rushed)
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee who has inspected the site of the accident said the accident raises suspicion, implying that there may have been some sort of sabotage. "Human life is very important," she said.
Two months ago, another major accident in West Bengal near Jhargram saw the Gyaneshwaari Express derailed - 148 people were killed. Banerjee rejected claims of sabotage by Naxals in the area, blaming the accident on "a political conspiracy." (Read and watch: Detailed probe ordered, says Mamata)
Banerjee has been attacked by a series of politicians including former Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who said the tragedy proves "carelessness." Ram Vilas Paswan of the LJP raised a point that Banerjee's opponents have been pushing for a few months - that she spends too much time handling the politics in her home state of West Bengal, and not enough on managing the Railways.
"Full-time involvement is needed there. The Railways Minster should take a decision on whether she wants to continue as a minster or do politics in Bengal. The two cannot go on at the same time. We are not going to tolerate her playing with hundreds of innocent lives once in every three months anymore," said Paswan. (Read and watch: Now, the politics, courtesy Paswan and Lalu)
The Railways also does not rule out sabotage. "As the chairman of the Railway Board, I can tell you I am more worried about the fact that most of the train accidents are now involving Mail Express trains, and in many of them we find there has been some willful interference. We have had five cases of sabotage this year." said Vivek Sahay, adding the the railways " will investigate all angles."
Eastern Railway CPRO, Samir Goswami said a few trains - the Kanchunjunga Express, the Sealdah bound Darjeeling mail and the Kanchankanya Express were diverted.
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(With PTI inputs)