Driver blamed for train disaster

CHENNAI/ARAKKONAM — Indian railway officials on Wednesday blamed driver error for a late-night collision between two packed passenger trains that killed 10 people and injured more than 80.


Published: Thu 15 Sep 2011, 9:11 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:45 AM

Tuesday’s crash saw a speeding train ram into a stationary one at a station near Arakkonam, about 90 kilometres from Chennai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Emergency teams worked on Wednesday to clear the crash site, where five coaches were derailed in the impact.

“Initial reports suggest that the driver may have jumped the signal,” Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, who visited the scene, told reporters.

Southern Railway general manager Deepak Krishnan said the driver, who survived the crash, had ignored speed restrictions close to the station.

“He passed a few signals and then jumped out of the train and injured himself,” Krishnan said. “It is very difficult (to know what happened), we will find out the details.”

Driver of the EMU train Rajkumar is also admitted here. His blood samples have been collected to find out whether he was under the influence of liquor,” an official of the Government General Hospital in Chennai said.

All the fatalities and injured passengers had been freed from the mangled wreckage by the morning, and engineers were working in heavy monsoon rains to repair the damaged track.

“I heard a loud noise but did not know what happened. There was no light and there was smoke all around. First we though it was a bomb blast,” Ramamurthy, 49, who only uses one name, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

“I heard the sound and in a flash I found myself lying on the track. Then co-passengers helped me,” he said after being taken to the local public hospital.

Janakiraman, who has been brought to Government General Hospital in Chennai on Tuesday night, said he heard a huge noise. After sometime he scrambled out of the bogie window in which he was travelling.

A similar tale of survival was narrated by Sundar admitted in the Government General Hospital.

“I somehow came out of the window. We also helped two others to come out,” he said.

The line between the port city of Chennai and the town of Vellore was due to be re-opened by Wednesday evening. The railway minister announced ex-gratia compensation of Rs500,000 for the dead, Rs100,000 for the seriously injured and Rs25,000 for the others. India’s creaking state-run railway system — still the main form of long-distance travel despite fierce competition from private airlines — carries 18.5 million people every day.

While new shiny airport infrastructure is springing up across the country, the Indian railways — a much romanticised legacy of British colonial rule — often appear stuck in a time-warp.

After decades of under-investment, the rolling stock is old, speeds are low, signalling is done manually in some areas, and a lack of fencing makes the network a soft target for militants.

Experts say the system is desperately in need of new investment to improve safety and help end transport bottlenecks.

The last major accident occurred in July when a packed express train travelling from Kolkata to New Delhi derailed at high speed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, killing 63 people.

India’s worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.

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