New Delhi/Lucknow/Chandigarh: Dense fog enveloped large swathes of north India Saturday, leading to three train collisions in Uttar Pradesh that claimed ten lives and injured 45 others, while three people were killed in road accidents in the national capital. Air, rail and road transport was severely hit across the region due to the heavy fog.
The train accidents took place in Kanpur, Etawah and Allahabad districts.
In the Kanpur accident, ten people were killed and 40 injured when the Gorakhdham Express collided with the stationary Prayagraj Express near Panki railway station, some 90 km from Lucknow. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi was travelling in the Prayagraj Express to Allahabad.
"Joshi is safe and unhurt," said a senior railway official.
"As per reports, 10 people have died in the collision that occurred at around 9 a.m.," Kanpur Deputy Inspector General B.P. Jogdand told IANS on the telephone. "About 40 people were injured in the collision."
The impact of the collision badly damaged three coaches of the Prayagraj Express after it was hit by the Gorakhdham Express.
In the Etawah accident, the driver of Lichchavi Express was critically injured when the train rammed into the Magadh Express near Sarai Bhupat railway station, some 300 km from Lucknow.
"The driver of the Lichchavi Express has fractured both his legs in the collision. He is being treated at a government hospital, where his condition is stated to be critical," Government Railway Police (GRP) inspector in Etawah A.K. Singh told IANS.
In the third accident in Allahabad, four people were injured when the Saryu Express collided with a railway maintenance trolley.
In Delhi, a cyclist, a 13-year-old boy and a motorist were killed in two separate road accidents caused by the blinding fog early Saturday.
There was chaos at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport and railway stations as hundreds of air and rail passengers were stranded as the dense fog led to several flights being grounded and trains delayed.
"A thick blanket of fog engulfed the city, reducing the visibility to as low as 50 metres this morning and throwing rail and air traffic out of gear," a met department official told agency.
According to airport officials, the fog and a fault in the instrument landing system brought flight operations at the Delhi airport to a halt, leading to the delay of all morning flights by up to three hours and diversion of 13 international flights.
"All flights were grounded till 10.30 am due to the fog. Flights resumed after nearly an eight-hour delay," said an airport official.
Four domestic flights were cancelled and international arrivals were diverted to various places including Jaipur, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, airport sources said.
Matters began improving once the fog gradually began clearing but the huge tail-back of flights led to inordinate delays.
"All flight operations to and from Delhi were affected due to dense fog and the snag in the Runway Visual Range (RVR) instrument located on the main runway. Many international and domestic flights coming to Delhi were diverted," said the official.
The northern grid also tripped early in the day causing a power blackout in many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh and seriously hit train services.
Electricity supply was restored within a few hours in most parts of Punjab and Haryana, the two states where train traffic was the worst affected.
The tripping in the northern grid took place at 3.02 a.m.
"The snag developed due to thick fog over Punjab and Haryana," Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) chairman H.S. Brar told IANS. Hectic work was on to restore power supply in all the states.
By early afternoon power supply had been restored in 60 percent of the areas, Brar said.
The tripping of the grid severely affected electricity-driven trains.
"It was a difficult situation for the passengers and the authorities. Trains were stranded for three-and-a-half hours. Now the situation is under control," divisional railway manager (Ambala division) H.K. Jaggi told agency.
In Ambala, 15 trains got delayed by one to three hours. In total, over 50 trains were affected in Ambala, Ferozepur and Delhi divisions, he said.
The railway authorities deployed diesel engines to overcome the crisis.
In Assam, the dense fog led to a fatal occurrence. A speeding freight train mowed down four wild Asiatic elephants, including two calves, as the driver failed to spot the huge animals squatting on the track.
A railway spokesperson said the incident occurred near Walingdisa railway station in Karbi Anglong district, about 270 km east of Assam`s main city Guwahati. The train was carrying petroleum products.
"The train hit the elephant herd squatting on the track. The train driver probably did not see the herd because of dense fog," Northeast Frontier Railways chief spokesperson S. Hajong told agency.
Road traffic on most highways in Punjab and Haryana was reduced to a crawl due to a thick fog that dropped visibility to dangerous levels.
A cold wave sweeping northern India for some days intensified with Amritsar and nearby places recording minus 1.2 degrees Celsius Saturday morning.
The fog is expected to continue as the dry, cold spell will prevail till next week.