Cause of Sainthia train tragedy remains a riddle

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - 19:37

Sainthia: Two days after Monday`s
train disaster at Sainthia in Birbhum district, the cause of
the collision that snuffed out 66 lives still remains a

With both the driver and assistant driver of 3148 Dn
Uttarbanga Express having died when their train rammed into
the 3404 Dn Vananchal Express from behind at high speed at
Sainthia station, it is difficult to ascertain what exactly
happened in the last few minutes at around 1.54 am.

Though the Uttarbanga Express had a scheduled stop at
Sainthia station, it entered the platform at very high speed
and hit the rear of the Vananchal Express, which had moved 100
m and then stopped again.

In a manual interlocking system area, according to
standard Indian Railway norms, when a train enters a station,
the home signal for the line immediately becomes red and
remains so till it leaves the station and the outer cabin of
the station.

After the outer cabin confirms the departure of the
the last compartment of the train to the station master, the
home signal again turns green for another incoming train.

In this case, the home signal was supposed to be red
as the Vananchal Express had not yet left the station, let
alone the outer cabin signal.

But the fact is, even if the signal was green due to
cabin man or technical error, the incoming Uttarbanga Express
had to slow down to around 20 km per hour while entering the
platform to stop at the station.

Instead, the Uttarbanga Express entered at over 60 km
per hour speed and hit the stationary Vananchal Express from

Keeping the possibility of a driver ignoring the
signal or some other technical fault in mind, the railway has
a second safety measure in place.

As soon as a train enters a station, the point on the
lines are set to another track which is free of traffic or to
the dead end line to ensure that it is diverted to the other
line to prevent it from ramming into the one standing ahead.

The setting of point to another line is done by the
station master on duty.

In this case, this procedure was apparently ignored by
the station master.

However, there is no denying that the initial and main
reason for the accident was that the driver Madhab Chandra De
and assistant driver Nirmal Mondal of Uttarbanga Express had
not slowed down despite Sainthia being a scheduled stop.

Had the drivers slowed the train to the stipulated
speed of below 20 km per hour while entering the platform,
they could have applied the emergency brakes and stopped it as
the Vananchal Express had moved ahead and its last compartment
was more than half way through the platform.

On the day of accident, General Manager of Eastern
Railway V N Tripathi had said, "the train was at speed."

He had said that the driver had an unblemished record
of five years of driving express trains. "We are also puzzled
how it happened and only after an inquiry by Commissioner of
Railway Safety we will be able to ascertain the cause."

Several theories are doing the rounds on the reason
for the driver and assistant driver not bringing the train to
a halt. This ranges from both De and Mondal having fallen
asleep to their being drugged or for some technical fault in
the diesel engine like failure of the brake.

But had the brakes failed, they would have informed
the guard of their train over walkie talkie. It has been
claimed that the guard had made frantic calls to De and
Mondal, but they did not respond.

The time between 2 am and 4 am is very crucial and
this is when people tend to feel sleepy. Many accidents have
occurred during this time period, a railway source said,
adding two drivers are engaged on duty for operational reasons
and also to ensure that they remain awake by talking to each
other or in an extreme situation at least one is awake.

It is possible that by sheer coincidence, both of them
had fallen asleep at the same time, leading to the train
ramming into the other from behind. The other remote
possibility is their being drugged by design or by fault.

There have been several incidents in the eastern
sector where passengers were robbed after being drugged.

The modus operandi of the robbers is to befriend
passengers and then offer food, sweets or tea laced with
drugs. The unsuspecting passengers after taking the food
either fall asleep or becomes senseless following which
they are robbed.

It may be a remote possibility that some thug, posing
as a hawker had sold the driver and assistant driver tea or
snacks laced with drugs.

The serving of the drug-laced tea or food to the
drivers could have been by accident, as there was almost no
possibility of robbing them, or it could have been a sinister

The police have registered a case under sections 279 rash driving), 337 and 338 (causing hurt/grievous hurt by act
endangering life or personal safety of others), 427 (mischief
causing damage) and 304(a) (causing death by negligence) of
IPC, West Bengal DGP Bhupinder Singh has said.

The viscera report of De and Mondal, which could throw
light on any such possibility, has not yet been received, a
top Birbhum district police official said.

While the Commissioner of Railway Safety of Indian
Railway is holding an inquiry, the West Bengal CID has also
registered a case and started an investigation into the cause
of the accident.


First Published: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - 19:37

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