At least 23 people were killed and 90 injured when 14 coaches of the Utkal Express derailed near Khatauli in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday. One of the train coaches also crashed into a house adjacent to the tracks. Rescue operations by NDRF, SDRF personnel and police came to an end, with the last of the bodies believed to have been pulled out and all the injured have been taken to a hospital in the district. Unofficial track maintenance could be the reason behind Utkal train accident, reports claimed.
The mishap took place at around 5.45 pm, 40 km off Muzaffarnagar. The train was travelling from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. Although the railway ministry officials in Delhi put the number of dead at 12 and those injured at 75, according to District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, GS Priyadarshi and Commissioner of Saharanpur division, Deepak Agarwal, the official number of bodies in the mortuary was 22. Some of the injured have been taken to Muzaffarnagar Medical College and others to Meerut Medical College.
The Government set up a series of helplines for more information on the mishap.
According to IndiaTV, NDRF officials said the search and rescue operations were ‘practically over’. Soon after the incident, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs. 3.5 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 for the severely injured and Rs. 25,000 for those who received minor injuries. He also said that he is personally looking into the matter and ordered a probe.
Reports indicate that maintenance of track was undergoing in the area where the tragedy struck. The driver was also unaware of the track maintenance being carried out. Times of India quoted a railway source saying that the accident seems to be the consequence of the failure and negligence of railway staff. It further stated that the maintenance work was ‘unofficial’ and hence lacked general procedures like speed control signals.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath expressing grief announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 for the injured. Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik also announced ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to next of kin of Odia passengers killed in derailment.
According to Prabhu, restoration work has begun. Soon after the incident suspecting a possible terror attack, security forces and investigation agencies were also rushed to the spot. However, several railway sources said that the primary cause of the mishap seems to be the ‘unofficial’ maintenance.
Officials also said that they found tracks broken underneath a coach and even Khatauli station officials were unaware of the repair work which was underway.
According to news agency PTI, a senior railway official said that trains passing through the Meerut line of the Northern Railway have been either cancelled or diverted till 6 pm today due to the mishap. The diverted trains would run through Shamli till the restoration work is over.