Kanchanjunga Express collision: Felt like an earthquake, say passengers; Route didn’t have anti-train collision system

A local man - among the first to start rescue operations - said that the express train was moving slowly when the goods train rammed into it.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 17, 2024 | 8:19 PM Updated Jun 17, 2024 | 8:19 PM

Kanchanjunga Express collision

A scheduled operational procedure at Lumding, which involves a direction reversal for trains passing through the station, turned into a life-altering event for passengers in the front and last coaches of the 13174 Agartala-Sealdah Kanchanjunga Express on Monday, 17 June.

The express train was struck from behind by a goods train at Rangapani, near New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. The direction reversal at Lumding in Assam meant that the coaches which were initially at the front became the rear end of the train. A passenger in a sleeper coach located in the middle of the rake said, “The affected coaches were in the front till Lumding.”

He explained that after the direction reversal, the affected four coaches – a general seating coach, two parcel vans, and a guard van – were at the rear end. The general seating coach was the most affected, being thrown onto adjacent tracks, he added.

It felt like an earthquake

“Our train was moving very slowly when it reached Rangapani, a few kilometers from New Jalpaiguri,” the passenger recounted, standing beside one of the mangled coaches.

Another passenger described a sudden, sharp jerk accompanied by a loud sound, and the train stopped abruptly. Upon disembarking, he saw that the goods train had hit their rake from behind. “We were having tea when the train stopped suddenly with a jerk,” he said.

A pregnant woman, traveling with her family, said she fell off her seat upon impact. “It felt like an earthquake. It took us some time to collect ourselves and understand what happened,” she said, sitting with her family in one of the air-conditioned sleeper coaches.

A local man, who was among the first to start rescue operations, mentioned that the express train was moving slowly when the faster-moving goods train rammed into it from behind.

Visiting the accident site, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista said rescue work was carried out despite inclement weather. “Our primary concern is to help the affected passengers,” he said.

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

Need for anti-collision devices

Siliguri mayor Goutam Deb, who also visited the accident site, emphasized the need for anti-collision devices in trains to ensure passenger safety. “Instead of spending huge amounts on bullet trains, the priority should be installing safety devices in trains,” he said. The Railways’ ‘Kavach’ or anti-train collision system was not in place along the Guwahati-Delhi route, where a goods train collided with the Sealdah Kanchanjunga Express in the rear on Monday, a top official said.

Chairperson of the Railway Board Jaya Varma Sinha said that Kavach, an automatic anti-collision train protection system, is being planned for the route. “It is not there right now,” she said.

Pointing towards a possible “human error” on part of the loco pilot of the goods train who succumbed to injuries from the accident, Sinha said the collision near New Jalpaiguri may have happened because the goods train disregarded the signal and hit the Kanchanjungha Express, which was on way to Sealdah from Agartala.

Related: Kanchanjungha Express accident: Over 329 lives lost due to train accidents, security issues since August 2021

According to the chairperson, five people died in the incident. However, some local reports attributed to senior West Bengal Police officials put the toll at 15. “Five passengers have died. The loco pilot of the goods train and the guard of Kanchanjungha Express have also lost their lives. About 50 passengers have been injured and they have been admitted to the North Bengal Medical College,” Sinha said.

She said a guard’s coach and two parcel vans of Kanchanjungha Express were destroyed and it was because of these three coaches, the passenger coach didn’t get much impact.

“The general compartment has also been impacted. Our priority was to rescue passengers. It has been completed now. Our area officer and his team reached the accident site, which is 10 km from the New Jalpaiguri station,” Sinha said. The chairperson also asserted that safety is the first priority of the Railways.

“We are doing everything to ensure that train operations remain safe,” she said. Stating that the implementation of ‘Kavach’ is being done on a mission mode, Sinha said it is already functional in 1,500 km of railway tracks, while another 3,000 kms will be added by the end of this year.

She said the production of the safety system has to be ramped up by the suppliers for ensuring faster implementation of the Kavach project across the country’s railway network. Sinha said the injured were shifted to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri and were being treated there.

“Local people reached the spot. State and district administration officials also arrived at the location. The NDRF, Army and others, too, reached the spot for rescue,” she added.

(Edited by Neena)

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