Utkal Express derails in Khatauli near Muzaffarnagar; 23 dead, dozens injured
The sorry state of Indian Railways came to the fore once again Saturday when 14 coaches of Haridwar-bound Utkal Express derailed in Khatauli, a town in north-western Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district.
According to reports, the accident killed 23 people while more than 150 were injured.
As of Sunday morning, the cause of the accident was not announced. However, one survivor told news agency ANI: "It suddenly felt as if someone had pulled the chain and the very next moment the train derailed."
Survivors also indicated that while locals promptly moved in to rescue and help accident victims, the authorities took their own time. Eventually, however, many injured passengers were taken to a hospital in the town.
Here are some important contact numbers:
Anil Saxena, spokesperson for the Northern Railway, first said there was no concrete information on the number of casualties, though later, he did confirm multiple deaths. He also confirmed that 14 coaches had derailed, after initial reports had suggested a number in the vicinity of six to eight coaches.
Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry to look into the lapses, even as his deputy, Manoj Sinha, was asked to rush to the accident site along with senior officials of the Railway Board.
Prabhu announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 3.5 lakh to the families of those who died in the mishap, Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured, and Rs 25,000 for people with minor injuries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Extremely pained by the derailment of the Utkal Express in Muzaffarnagar. My thoughts are with the family of the deceased.”
President Ram Nath Kovind,too, expressed sadness over the incident.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said he was shocked to know about the unfortunate incident.
Report from the spot
According to a local journalist at the accident spot, as soon as the train crossed Khatauli station at around 5.50pm, it derailed.
“There is chaos on the site of the accident, as rescue and relief workers try to cut through the coaches,” the journalist told Catch. “The number of casualties are expected to rise, looking at the number of coaches that have been affected in the accident. The accident happened barely 200 metres from the Khatauli station when the emergency brakes were applied, according to initial accounts. It is drizzling here, which is complicating rescue operations, and three of the coaches haven't been touched yet.”
A rescue train was despatched from Saharanpur to the site of the accident. ANI reported that a first National Disaster Response Force team with 44 rescuers & two search dogs has been despatched to the site. Nine companies of UP's Provincial Armed Constabulary too have been sent to aid in the relief and rescue operations.
UP health minister Sidharth Nath Singh tweeted that the injured were being sent to the primary health centre in Khatauli and district hospitals in Muzaffarnagar, and all ambulances from Meerut and Muzaffarnagar had been mobilised to help in rescue.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed all help for the injured in the accident.
The injured were reportedly rushed to the medical college in Muzaffarnagar, and the Government Medical College in Meerut.
Khatauli station falls between Meerut Cantonment and Muzaffarnagar stations, two designated stoppages of the train.
Should Prabhu resign?
Former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has demanded Prabhu's resignation.
The first six months of 2017 saw as many as 20 derailments. Earlier, in 2016, in November, the Patna-Indore Express derailed near Kanpur, killing over a hundred people in one of the most serious accidents in the recent past.
Top leadership, including PM Modi, had suggested sabotage in the train accidents, including the one in Kanpur, even as Pakistan's ISI came under the arc of probe.
However, a recent NITI Aayog report on railway safety suggested otherwise.
The report noted a five-fold increase in deaths in rail accidents in 2016-2017. As per the report, sabotage accounted for just two rail accidents in 2016-17, while 64 were on account of failure of railway staff, 22 on failure of non-railway staff, and two on account of failure of equipment.
The report also held the engineering department accountable for 43% of derailments in the last five years.