Anand Mohan Sahay in Rafiganj
The 86-year-old railway bridge over Dhawa river has become the centre of a controversy after the New Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express, speeding at 130 km per hour, derailed at the bridge, killing over 100 people and injuring over 200.
The bridge, situated near Rafiganj in Aurangabad district about 45 km from Gaya, was in 'sound condition' before the accident, railway officials and technical experts claimed.
Their claim echoed Union Railway Minister Nitish Kumar and Indian Railway Board chairman M S Rana's statements that 'sabotage', involving either the Naxalites or Pakistan's ISI, could not be ruled out, as the fish plates were missing from the tracks.
But Bihar government maintained that the accident was due to the poor maintenance of the bridge.
Bihar Director General of Police R R Prasad, after his visit to the accident spot, rejected the sabotage theory by saying the pillars and the iron girders of the bridge had become weak.
An Eastern Railway employee, on the condition of anonymity, told rediff.com that usually trains travel at the speed of 50 to 60 km per hour over the bridge. "But on Monday night, the Rajdhani Express was travelling at 130 kmph, which might have led to displacement of the girders of the bridge," he said.
He said the girders and the pillars of the bridge were last repaired 48 years ago.
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had also said the accident was due to the poor maintenance of the bridge. "There is no logic behind the sabotage theory as barely a few minutes before the accident another express train had crossed the same bridge. Were the miscreants skilled enough to remove the fish plates so soon?" he asked.
But, railway officials said the bridge, with five pillars measuring 60-feet in breadth and 300-feet in length, was known for its structural prowess and strength. "There had been no untoward incident on the bridge ever since its construction," a railway official said
According to the railways' technical experts, the bridge was so well maintained that the general manager of the Eastern Railway lauded the engineering department of the Mughalsarai division during his annual inspection last year.
"The accident completely damaged five girders and three piers of the bridge, which can happen only if the tracks were tampered with," one expert said.
But Bihar government officials are sceptical and said that the engine and the parcel van would not have passed the bridge, if the fish-plates had been removed.
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