Authorities on Sunday admitted to negligence and ground-level lapses that may have derailed the Kalinga Utkal Express train in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday claiming 23 lives as the government suspended four railway officials and sent the general manager of Northern Railway on leave over the incident.
Based on prima facie evidence, a junior engineer (Permanent Way), a senior section engineer (Permanent Way), an assistant engineer and a senior divisional engineer have been suspended, a railway ministry statement said.
It said that the chief track engineer of Northern Railway was also transferred while the divisional railway manager, Delhi, and the general manager of the Northern Railway as well as the railway board’s member (engineering) were sent on leave.
Even as a probe to know the exact cause of the train disaster began, a criminal complaint was lodged against unknown people for causing deaths by negligence. Mohd Jamshed from the Railway Board told the media in New Delhi that lapses in maintenance work being carried out on the track could have caused the accident involving the speeding train at Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar district.
He said the railways were probing the disaster from all angles and a case had been registered for “causing damage or destruction of railway properties, for mischief, for death by negligence, for causing grievous hurt, injuring lives by overlooking safety”.
The official said authorities would look into possible sabotage and whether “all precautions were taken” while the repair work was on. Another railway official requesting anonymity said it appeared that negligence was the prima facie reason for the tragedy.
At Khatauli, angry locals accused the railways of gross negligence. According to them, workers repairing the tracks left mid-way because of heavy rains, leaving equipment on the tracks.
To worsen the situation, the local railway station manager claimed he had no idea of the work carried out on the tracks. In the process, the train driver was not alerted to the danger.
The Kalinga Utkal Express was on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand when 14 coaches derailed at Khatauli. The accident was so severe that some of the derailed coaches mounted on others.
A day later, dazed survivors recounted the horrific disaster, saying the death toll would have been much more but for the timely help rendered by residents of Khatauli, some 40km from Muzaffarnagar town.
Virtually everyone credited the locals with rescuing dozens of trapped passengers from the mangled coaches of the train. Many survived because the locals rushed them to hospitals, much before officials mounted a rescue operation.
Meanwhile, an unverified telephonic conversation apparently between two railway employees circulated on social media also hinted that negligence was the reason of the accident.
One of the men in the audio clip apparently posted near the accident site says that “poor patrolling” on the track where maintenance work was on was one of the causes.
“Welding work was under way at a section of the railway track… but the workers did not fix the block of the track and left it loose. Gates near the crossing were closed. A piece (of the track) was not fixed,” one of the employees is heard saying.