23 dead, over 400 injured as Utkal Express derails

Off track: The mangled coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express at Khatauli, near Muzaffarnagar, on Saturday

NDRF teams deployed at accident site near Muzaffarnagar

At least 23 persons were killed and around 400 injured when 14 coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express derailed on Saturday evening at Khatauli, near Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh police officials said.

It was 5.46 p.m. on Saturday when the Haridwar- bound train derailed immediately after it crossed the Khatauli station.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel told The Hindu that the number of dead could rise as several passengers were still trapped in the wreckage. Officials said 100 persons were seriously injured. Rescue operations have slowed down after darkness.

The Railway Ministry is yet to comment on the reason for the accident but the impact of the accident was strong enough to send a derailed coach crashing into a house in Jagat colony, a railway colony next to the tracks.

Out of total 14 coaches, three were third AC coaches and the rest were sleeper coaches.Senior Railway Ministry officials present on the spot told The Hindu that “though the investigation is yet to be concluded but preliminary probe suggests that the driver of the Kalinga Express had applied sudden breaks as he found repair works going on the track which led to the accident.

According to eye witnesses many pedestrians walking on the road near the railway track were also injured in the accident.

Several eyewitnesses said there was loud sound preceding the derailment. “There was an extremely loud sound which attracted people’s attention before the train was derailed. We saw some coaches dangling in the air and falling off, some of them on each other,” Jaiveer, an eyewitness said.

Most of the injured were in a state of shock. Many elderly people were lying near the tracks, struggling to overcome the trauma. too shocked that they were unable to remember anything. But there were many bodies of men and women, some of them bloody, on one side of the derailed train. Eyewitnesses who were rescuing people were recounting how it happened.

A passenger Vishal travelling in one of the AC coaches said, “There was huge loud noise. Before I could realise, it was all dark and there was huge movement and shaking as if it was an earthquake had hit. I think that was the last thing I remember.” He sustained a minor injury on his head and was rescued by local people.

There was minor skirmish between the local residents and the police when the crowd which was busy in rescuing people accused the administration of reaching late but soon the rescue mission started in full speed with all the senior police officers of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar range, BJP MP from Muzaffarnagar Sanjeev Baliyan, Suresh Rana, a member of Yogi Adityanath government, on the spot supervising the rescue mission with equipmen to cut open the mangled coaches.

Hundreds of passengers came out from other coaches and started looking for their friends and fellow passengers. There were many like Kabir Rathor whose parents were travelling in the train. “I must thank god that my parents are safe. They were coming from Gwalior for the purpose of bathing on the occassion of Somvati Amavasya,” Rathor said with relief and tension both palpable on his face.

“The cause of the derailment is difficult to ascertain at this moment. All possibilities are being explored. Even the Anti-Terrorist Squad is at the accident site,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

Minister of State Railways Manoj Sinha, Railway Board Member Traffic Mohd. Jamshed and Railway Board Member Engineering A.K. Mittal have rushed to the accident spot, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said.

“I have ordered inquiry into the unfortunate accident to ascertain the cause. Strict action will be taken against any lapse,” Mr. Prabhu said, adding he has requested Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Dr. Sanjeev Balyan to reach the accident site as well.

An accident alert has been issued to all the hospitals in Meerut and the National Capital Region Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorist squad has reached the site too on the instructions of state ADG (law and order) Anand Kumar.

A.K. Gupta in charge of CHC Khatauli told the media that over all 150 people were admitted by 10 p.m. in the night and 30 serious patients were referred to the Meerut hospital.

U.P. Health Minister Siddhharth Nath Singh tweeted that the State government mobilised medical services and instructed chief medical officers of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar to extend all help to the injured.

Chief medical officer, Meerut, Dr Rajkumar told The Hindu that 26 government ambulances have been sent to the accident site. Additionally, 20 ambulances from private hospitals have also been rushed to the spot.

Dr Rajkumar added that all hospitals, including the medical college in Meerut, have been put on high alert. “The district hospital in Meerut is admitting serious patients. We are all prepared,”he added.

Meanwhile Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced an ex-gratia of ₹3.5 lakh for kin of dead, ₹ 50,000 for the seriously injured and ₹25,000 for those with minor injuries. Mr Adtiyanath has announced ₹2 lakh for the families of the deceased and ₹ 50,000 for those injured.

Expressing deep anguish over the loss of lives in derailment of Kalinga Utkal Express in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said, “my thoughts and prayers are with victims’ families and the injured.”

Mr. Patnaik spoke to Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu who had assured all help to the affected passengers.

The Odisha government has announced an ex-gratia of ₹5 lakh for next of kin of passengers from the State killed in the derailment. The State government will also pay ₹50,000 for the injured and for treatment in any hospital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed extreme pain over the accident and assured that the Railway Ministry and State government were doing everything possible to provide the required assistance.

From January-June this year, total 29 serious train accidents took place out of which 20 accidents happened due to train derailment that killed at least 39 people and injured 54. In 2016-17, 78 derailments took place on railway tracks two of which were attributed to ‘coach defect.’

In the last five years, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, out of total 586 accidents, 308 occurred due to derailments and 199 because of unmanned level crossings. Out of total 1,011 casualties, 347 were killed due to train derailments and 449 because of unmanned level crossings.

This is the second serious train derailment case in Uttar Pradesh in the last few months. In November last year, 14 coaches of the Patna-bound Indore-Rajendranagar Express train derailed between Pokhrayan and Malasa stations in Uttar Pradesh, killing 152 passengers and injuring 183.