At least 39 people were killed and 69 injured when engine and nine coaches of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express jumped the tracks in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district with the railways suspecting sabotage behind the derailment, the third in as many months.
The engine and nine coaches of the Bhubaneswar-bound train went off the track near Kuneru station around 11 pm on Sunday night, Chief public relations officer of East Coast Railway J P Mishra said.
Thirty-nine people have died while 69 were injured. Seven passengers were critical while 20 left for their destinations after treatment, officials said.
Rescue operation was almost over, the divisional railway manager office said on Sunday evening, adding they don’t expect to find any more bodies in the mangled coaches.
Two AC coaches, four sleeper coaches, two general compartments and the guard-cum-passenger coach besides the locomotive of the train were affected and four of these coaches had overturned.
Railway spokesperson Anil Saxena said there are indications of foul play as a goods train passed the same track just two hours before the mishap, which occurred in the Naxal-prone zone just ahead of the Republic Day.
However, Odisha Police ruled out involvement of Maoists in the mishap.
According to railways, prima facie there was rail fracture which caused the derailment. But it has to be ascertained through whether the fracture was due to sabotage or because of negligence and lack of maintenance.
“The real cause will be known only after inquiry by the Commissioner Railway Safety,” Saxena said.
“There are indications of foul play as goods train passed the same track just two hours before the mishap. The inspection by the patrol team also found the track okay yesterday,” he said
“The driver applied emergency brake after feeling a big jerk and heard a loud sound. The area is Naxal prone and the incident happened just ahead of Republic Day,” Saxena said.
Home ministry sources said it may ask the National Investigation Agency to see if the derailment was a subversive act. “The NIA can expand the scope of their ongoing probe,” they said.
The National Investigation Agency is looking into the claims of three arrested persons that the derailment of Indore-Patna express on November 20, 2016 in which at least 150 people were killed, was carried out at the behest of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu rushed to the accident site along with Chairman Railway Board A K Mital and announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh for the families of the victims, most of whom were from Odisha.
Railway Protection Force Director General S K Bhagat said, “Nothing can be ruled out right now. But the actual cause will be ascertained only after the inquiry.”
However, Odisha DGP K B Singh said “There is no indication of Maoist hand behind the derailment”. He was speaking after attending a review meeting chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders expressed grief over the incident. The PM said the railway ministry was monitoring the situation very closely and working to ensure quick rescue and relief operations.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu announced an additional Rs 5 lakh under an insurance scheme to the kin of victims from the state. Chief ministers of various states also condoled the loss of lives in the incident.
Photographs: PTI Photos