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November 26, 1998

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150 killed in Punjab rail tragedy

At least 150 people were feared killed and 250 injured in a train accident between Kaudi and Daudpur villages near Khanna railway station on the Khanna-Ludhiana section of the Northern Railway in Punjab, a couple of hours before dawn today.

The accident occurred at about 0315 hours IST when the Calcutta-bound 3152-down Jammu Tawi-Sealdah Express rammed into 10 derailed coaches of the Amritsar-bound 2903-up Frontier Mail (recently renamed the Golden Temple Express).

Ten coaches of the Frontier Mail got decoupled from the train and derailed, six of them falling onto a parallel track where they were hit by the oncoming Sealdah Express even as passengers were alighting from the other four coaches.

Northern Railway General Manager V K Mehta said there was "a gap of just one minute" between the Frontier Mail coaches getting derailed and the Sealdah Express ramming into them.

Driver Subhash Chander and co-driver Sewa Ram Murti of the Sealdah Express were among those killed.

Railway and police officers said 101 bodies had been extricated, but feared that at least 50 more could be trapped in the wreckage.

The extricated bodies were removed to A S College at Khanna. The deputy commissioner of Ludhiana district has permitted relatives of the victims to take the bodies away for last rites without post-mortems.

The injured have been admitted to the Post-Graduate Institute in Chandigarh, Rajendra Medical College Hospital in Patiala, Dayanand Medical College and Christian Medical College hospitals in Ludhiana, and the civil hospitals in Ludhiana, Samarala, Khanna, Doraha, Mandi Gobindgarh, and Sirhind.

Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, who visited the site, said it was yet to be ascertained if decoupling had led to derailment or vice-versa.

He said the toll could go up as some of the injured passengers are in a critical condition, with multiple head and chest injuries.

The commissioner of railway safety has been asked to ascertain the cause of the accident.

Kumar declined to speculate on the possibility of sabotage, saying this would be known only after the inquiry. But Punjab Director General of Police P C Dogra ruled out sabotage. He said preliminary investigations had revealed that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure.

The accident occurred on the electrified track in Ambala division, but both trains were being hauled by diesel engines.

Traffic on the main Ludhiana-Ambala-Delhi section has been suspended. All trains running on this section have been diverted on the Dhuri-Patiala and Dhuri-Jakhal routes.

Besides the engine of the express, which was buried under three coaches of the mail, seven coaches of the Calcutta-bound train -- an air-conditioned coach (number 1314), two sleeper coaches (7646 and 4179), two ordinary coaches (9506 and 9247), and a brake van (3327) -- were damaged.

The second-class coaches of the Frontier Mail damaged in the accident were 95303, 95231 and 95221. The other seven derailed coaches also suffered varying damage.

The remaining nine coaches of the Frontier Mail and its engine, however, travelled safely for about 3 km before its drivers Ashwini Kumar and Satbir brought the train to a halt.

They claimed to have exchanged signals with the driver and co-driver of the Sealdah Express before they heard the thundering crash.

Ram Parkash, 14, one of the survivors in the Sealdah Express, said many of his co-passengers were pilgrims returning from the Vaishnodevi shrine in Jammu.

Railway officials said four soldiers of the Indian Army and a jawan of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were among those killed.

A soldier trapped in a mangled coach was rescued. Heavy-duty cranes, which had reached the site, were not pressed into service to untangle and remove the mass of coaches so as to save those who may be still trapped inside alive, an official said.

Instead, men armed with gas cutters were trying to cut through the mangled mass of metal.

Officials put the number of passengers on the two trains at 2,500.

In a condolence message, President K R Narayanan said, "I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved families and to those injured."

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed "profound grief and sadness" at the accident, and wished a speedy recovery for the injured.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal expressed shock over the colossal loss of human lives. He directed the state chief secretary and the district administration to provide free medical help to the injured.

Punjab Governor, Lieutenant General (retired) B K N Chibber expressed deep shock and grief. Lt General Chibber, who also heads the Punjab branch of the Indian Red Cross Society, directed it to rush relief teams to the site.

Meanwhile, alternative arrangements were made for the stranded passengers. The passengers bound for Amritsar were accommodated in the six unaffected coaches of the Frontier Mail, which left the site at 0950 hours.

The Calcutta-bound passengers were cleared by a special ten-coach train, which left at 0925 hours for Lucknow via Ambala.

Ten of the dead, apart from the Sealdah Express driver and co-driver, have been identified so far. They are: Sindhu (45), Madhukarrao Pathak (62), his wife Durga (56), Shanta (60), Haji Ghayasuddin (55), Dasarath (30), Manju Sharma (32), Nirpal Singh (24), Raghubir Singh Teha (43), and Havaldar Kishore Bahadur Thapa, no 13748013, of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.

The Northern Railway has set up enquiry counters at major stations for information on the accident. Enquiries can be made at New Delhi (Tel: 3343467)
Hazrat Nizamuddin (4619748)
Delhi (3962389)
Meerut (511131)
Ambala (21275)
Ludhiana (741057)
Amritsar (225028/29)
Jammu (431027, 433096, 453027)
Jalandhar City (744702)
Pathankot (22046, 20417)
Saharanpur (648453)
Bombay (3015315/16)


Major train accidents in the country

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