Kanchanjunga Express collision: 15 dead, 60 injured; Signal defective since 5.50 am: Railway source

Railway officials confirmed that the Kanchanjunga Express has begun its journey to Kolkata with passengers in the unaffected coaches.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 17, 2024 | 11:52 AM Updated Jun 17, 2024 | 3:20 PM

Probe on Kanchanjunga Express collision

At least 15 passengers died and 60 others were injured after three rear coaches of the stationary Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express derailed on the morning of Monday, 17 June, as a goods train collided with it in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district, officials said.

The toll could rise, as multiple agencies of the state and Centre were simultaneously working on a war footing along with locals to rescue passengers who could still be trapped inside, they said.

The deceased include the pilot and co-pilot of the goods train, a senior railway official said.

The injured are being taken to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, police said.

The three rear compartments derailed under the impact of the collision from behind by the locomotive of the goods train near Rangapani station, about 30 km from North Bengal’s New Jalpaiguri station, the official said.

Railway officials, meanwhile in the afternoon, confirmed that the ill-fated Kanchanjunga Express has begun its journey to Kolkata with passengers in the unaffected coaches.

“The train has started from the accident site around 12.40 pm and is expected to reach Sealdah at 8 pm,” Kaushik Mitra, CPRO, Eastern Railway, told reporters.

Meanwhile, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on X: “Unfortunate accident in NFR zone. Rescue operations going on at war footing. Railways, NDRF and SDRF are working in close coordination. The injured are being shifted to the hospital. Senior officials have reached site.”

The divisional railway manager (DRM) of North Frontier Railway’s Katihar division said the 13174 Kanchanjunga Express was bound for Sealdah from Agartala and the accident occurred around 9 am.

Cause of collision

According to preliminary information received from rail officials, the passenger train was stationary on the tracks when the goods train rammed into it from behind.

While two rear compartments of the Kanchanjunga Express were immediately thrown off the tracks under the severe impact, another bogie was seen precariously hanging mid-air with the engine of the goods train tucked underneath.

According to a railway source, the automatic signalling system between Ranipatra Railway Station and Chattar Hat Junction in West Bengal, where a goods train hit Sealdah Kanchanjungha Express in the rear, was defective since 5.50 in the morning.

“Train No 13174 (Sealdah Kanchanjungha Express) departed Rangapani station at 8:27 am and stopped between Ranipatra railway station and Chattar Hat due to automatic signalling failure from 5:50 am,” the source told PTI.

According to another railway official, when the automatic signalling system fails, the station master issues a written authority called TA 912, which authorises the driver to cross all red signals in the section because of the defect.

“The station master of Ranipatra had issued TA 912 to Train No 1374 (Sealdah Kanchanjungha Express),” the source said.

He added, “Around the same time, a goods train, GFCJ, departed Rangapani at 8:42 am and hit 13174 in the rear portion resulting from the derailment of the guard’s coach, two parcel coaches and a general seating coach.”

Driver violated signal: Railways

The Railway Board in its initial statement said that the driver of the goods train violated the signal. It pegged the overall death toll at five. However, some local officials said it could be as high as 15.

Sources said that an investigation alone can establish whether the goods train was also given TA 912 to cross defective signals at speed or if it was the loco pilot, who violated the defective signal norm.

If it is the latter, the driver was supposed to stop the train for one minute at each defective signal and move on at 10 kmph speed.

The loco pilot’s body has questioned the Railways’ statement that the driver violated the red signal.

“It is highly objectionable to announce the dear loco pilot responsible when he is dead and CRS inquiry pending,” Sanjay Pandhi, the working president of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), said.

According to Railway Board Chairperson Jaya Varma Sinha, the collision happened because a goods train disregarded the signal and hit the Kanchanjungha Express, which was on its way to Sealdah from Agartala.

Rescue and relief operations

BJP MP from Darjiling Raju Bista has reached the accident spot and is overseeing the rescue operations.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also will visit the train accident site to take stock of relief operations, an official said.

“The chief minister is going to visit the accident spot in New Jalpaiguri to take stock of the relief operations,” the official told PTI.

Speaking to the media, Raju Bita said the rescue operations are going on at full speed, “Right now our main aim is to complete the rescue operations as soon as possible. The injured have been shifted to nearby hospitals.”

“It is a good thing that the NDRF, SDRF, and the state police are carrying out the relief operations at maximum speed, we want to reduce the casualties.”

Speaking about the mishap, the MP said the incident needs to be enquired, “If the Kanchanjunga train was at normal speed, halting or slow speed. And how did a goods train in daylight collide with this train?”

Meanwhile, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw left for West Bengal to take stock of relief operations following the train accident.

Railway Minister Ashwini Vishnaw announced on X, that an ex-gratia of  ₹ 10 lakh for the deceased, and ₹ 2.5 lakh compensation for the greiviously injured.

Inclement weather in the region posed an additional challenge to the rescue operations, the officials said.

19 trains cancelled, several re-routed

Long-distance train services from north Bengal and the northeastern part of the country were affected due to the accident.

According to the press release from the railways, 19 trains have been cancelled due to the mishap.

The trains are:

1. 19602 New Jalpaiguri – Udaipur City Weekly Express of 17.06.

2. 20503 Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express of 16.06.24.

3. 12423 Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express of 16.06.24

4. 01666 Agartala-Rani Kamlapati Special train of 16.06.24

5. 12377 Sealdah- New Alipurduar Padatik Express of 16.06.24

6. 06105 Nagercoil Jn.- Dibrugarh Special of 14.06.24.

7. 20506 New Delhi- Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express of 16.06.24.

8. 12424 New Delhi- Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express of 16.06.24.

9. 22301 Howrah-New Jalpaiguri Vande Bharat Express of 17.06.24.

10. 12346 Guwahati- Howrah Saraighat Express of 17.06.24.

11. 12505 Kamakhya Anand Vihar Northeast Express of 17.06.24.

12. 12510 Guwahati- Bengaluru Express of 17.06.24.

13. 22302 New Jalpaiguri- Howrah Vande Bharat Express of 17.06.24.

14. 15620 Kamakhya-Gaya Express of 17.06.24.

15. 15962 Dibrugarh- Howrah Kamrup Express of 17.06.24.

16. 15636 Guwahati-Okha Express of 17.06.24.

17. 15930 New Tinsukia-Tambaram Express of 17.06.24.

18. 13148 Bamanhat-Sealdah Uttar Banga Express of 17.06.24.

19. 22504 Dibrugarh- Kanyakumari Express of 17.06.24.

Eastern Railway officials in Kolkata said route diversions of several long-distance trains were being made through the Siliguri-Bagdogra-Aluabari zone instead of their usual route, as the tracks remained blocked at the accident site.

State government officials said additional bus services were being introduced from the region on an emergency basis to transport the affected commuters.

West Bengal CM, PM, President condole deaths

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in a post on X, said: “Shocked to learn, just now, about a tragic train accident, in the Phansidewa area of Darjeeling district. While details are awaited, Kanchenjunga Express has reportedly been hit by a goods train.

“DM, SP, doctors, ambulances and disaster teams have been rushed to the site for rescue, recovery, and medical assistance. Action on war-footing initiated,” she added.

In a post on X, the prime minister said the “railway accident in West Bengal is saddening. Condolences to those who lost their loved ones”.

“I pray that the injured recover at the earliest. Spoke to officials and took stock of the situation. Rescue operations are underway to assist the affected. The Railways Minister Shri @AshwiniVaishnaw Ji is on the way to the site of the mishap as well,” he added.

The PM also announced that an ex-gratia of ₹2 lakh would be given to the next of kin of each deceased, while the injured would be provided ₹50,000.

President of India, Draupadi Murmu too condoled the deaths and prayed for a speedy recovery of the injured.

“The train accident that happened in New Jalpaiguri, West Bengal is very sad. I express my condolences to those who lost their family members in this unfortunate accident and wish for the speedy recovery of the injured,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on X in Hindi and Bangla.

Also Read: A look at other major rail tragedies — and ministers who resigned

(With PTI inputs)

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