Balasore/Bhubaneswar: Investigators were on Saturday looking into any human error, signal failure and other possible causes behind the three-train crash in Odisha’s Balasore district as officials submitted a preliminary inquiry report into one of the worst accidents that left at least 288 people dead and over 800 injured.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the accident site and was briefed by Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw as well as officers of the disaster management teams. He also met some of the injured at the hospital.
“I do not have words to express the pain… Stringent action will be taken against those found guilty… No one will be spared,” Modi said.
The crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying around 2,000 passengers, and a goods train occurred around 7 PM on Friday near the Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore, about 250 km south of Kolkata and 170 km north of Bhubaneswar.
Seventeen coaches were derailed and severely damaged in the accident, trapping hundreds of passengers. Both passenger trains were at a high speed and it has been cited by experts as one of the main reasons for the high number of casualty.
From a vantage point high above the ground, the disaster site looked as if a powerful whirlwind had thrown the coaches like toys on top of each other. Closer to the ground, bloodied,disfigured bodies and dismembered body parts lay enmeshed, creating a grotesque sight.
Large cranes were deployed to move the wreckage and gas cutters were used to extricate the bodies from the mangled, toppled coaches.
The rescue operation was wrapped up Saturday afternoon and restoration work started. The injured were admitted to four hospitals.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that a signal was given to Coromandel Express to enter the main line but it was taken off and the train entered the loop line, where it crashed into a goods train parked there.
The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express which was coming at high speed crashed into the coaches of Coromandel Express that had scattered on the adjacent track.
Citing reports available till 2 pm Saturday, the official said 288 people were killed in the accident.
The official said 803 people were injured in the accident. Of them, 56 suffered grievous injuries, the official added.
Shocked survivors recalled their brush with death, while families in several states including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha underwent a painful wait to know the fate of their loved ones.
“The train was running at a high speed. Around 7 pm, a loud sound was heard and it was chaos after that. I fell down on the floor from the upper berth. It was ghastly, many people with grave injuries were lying around,” Mizan Ul Haq, a resident of Bardhaman who was in a coach at the rear of the Howrah Superfast Express train, said.
Another Bardhaman resident, a carpenter who works in Bengaluru, said he was injured in the chest, feet and head when the coach in which he was travelling turned turtle.
“We had to break open the windows and jump out of the compartment to save ourselves,” he said, adding he saw many dead bodies after the accident.
The unreserved compartments were packed, carrying mostly migrant workers to Tamil Nadu or Kerala, according to survivors.
Nityam Ray, a resident of Bhomrail village in West Bengal’s Malda district, was also killed in the accident. He was travelling on the Coromandel Express, his family said.
Ray, 30, called his wife on phone moments after he boarded the train from the Shalimar station in Howrah district. “That was the last time I spoke to him,” she said.
The Balasore district hospital and Soro hospital looked like a war zone as the injured were rushed in.
More than 2,000 people gathered at the Balasore Medical College and Hospital at night to help the injured and many of them donated blood, officials said.
The morgue at the hospital was overflowing with shrouded bodies and was thronged by distraught relatives of passengers.
As the nation mourned the massive tragedy, several states and parties cancelled their programmes and condolences poured in from across the world.
Expressing shock and grief at the tragic train accident, opposition leaders stressed the importance of prioritising the safety of passengers by railways, while there were also demands to fix accountability and for the resignation of Railway Minister Vaishnaw.
While questions were raised on why the anti-train collision system “Kavach” did not work, the railways said it was not available on the route.