At least 60 people were killed and 150 injured after a speeding Sealdah-bound Uttar Banga Express rammed into three coaches of the stationary Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express at Sainthia station in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, about 190 km from Kolkata, early on Monday, railway authorities said.
The railway minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, confirmed the 49 deaths, expressed regret, saying she was "sorry to see two incidents (railway accidents) in West Bengal in two months." The 60 victims include 57 passengers and three railway employees, an Eastern Railway release said here.
The eastern railway chief public relations officer, Mr Samir Goswami, said the accident took place around 2.15 am, rudely jolting hundreds of sleeping passengers. Among the dead were the driver and assistant driver of the Uttar Banga Express and the guard of the Vananchal Express.
Chief Security Commissioner of Eastern Railway, Mr S. Sahoo, told IANS: "We fear that more than 50 have died."
The accident occurred 52 days after the Gyaneshwari Express tragedy in which 148 people died as the Maoist guerillas cut open the pandrol clips (used to fix the rail to the sleeper) near Jhargram in West Midnapore district. After the Mumbai-bound Gyaneshwari Express derailed May 28, a freight train approaching from the opposite direction rammed into five derailed coaches, resulting in the high casualties.
Bodies from the accident spot have been sent to the district hospital in Suri, the headquarters of Birbhum district, Sainthia Government Railway Police (GRP) sources said.
"About 150 of the injured have been shifted to hospitals in Suri and Sainthia," Additional Director General of Police, (Railways) Mr Dilip Mitra, said.
Five medical teams and an accident relief team have reached the spot, authorities said. The site of the accident is 191 km from Howrah on the Bolpur-Rampurhat section of Eastern Railway’s Howrah division.
An Eastern Railway spokesman said the Vananchal Express was at platform 4 when the Uttar Banga Express, coming from New Coochbehar, hit it. The engine of the speeding train ploughed through three coaches of the stationary express from the rear. All three coaches were badly mangled by the severity of the collision with one of the coaches shooting up from the tracks and careening into the footbridge above.
Local people were the first to rush in for the rescue as cries of the injured passengers, many of whom had lost their limbs, rent the air.
The authorities, facing allegations of a delayed start to the rescue efforts, were using gas-cutters to cut open the coaches and bring out the dead and rescue the injured.
"We have managed to extricate the bodies from two of the three compartments so far," Birbhum Police Superintendent, Mr Humayun Kabir, told IANS.
"Many of the bodies have got pasted in the coaches. We are only managing to extricate body parts, rather than whole bodies," said a rescue worker. "We were sleeping. Suddenly we were awakened by a loud sound. The train was dark. For a few minutes we were dumbfounded. Then I gathered my wits and came out of the train," said Mr R.N. Ghosh, a passenger of Uttar Banga Express.
"The station was also dark. I saw people running in panic. Then I found that Uttarbanga has hit another train. Three of the rear bogies of this train (Vananchal) were devastated," he said. The eastern railway general manager, Mr V.N. Tripathy, said an enquiry has been ordered into how both the trains came on to the same line.
Train movement on the down line has been disrupted in the Bolpur-Rampurhat section. The down Malda-Howrah Intercity Express were among several trains cancelled and many trains were stranded on the down line.
A railway official said other than the thee coaches that were hit, the remainder of the Vananchal Express was brought to Burdwan en route to Ranchi. The Uttar Banga Express has been brought to Rampurhat after replacing the damaged engine.(IANS)