A day after train tragedy, rail traffic on Amritsar-Jalandhar route still blocked

Amritsar :  A day after the train tragedy in which 59 people watching Dusshera effigy burning were crushed to death by a speeding train, the traffic on the Jalandhar-Amritsar route has not yet been restored, officials said.

Northern Railway spokesperson Deepak Kumar told IANS: “The train services on the Amritsar-Jalandhar route have not been restored yet as the railways was awaiting safety clearance from the law and order department of the state government.”

He said however, the Jalandhar-Jammu route was operational and a number of trains have been diverted through that.

The spokesperson said that following the accident, the railways cancelled 37 trains, diverted 16, short-terminated 12 and short-originated six trains on the route.

Earlier in the day, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani, who visited the accident site and hospitals to meet the injured said that the railways was not “responsible” for any lapses leading to the disaster.

The Railways was not informed about the Dusshera ceremony near the Joda Phatak vicinity either by the area administration or the event organisers, Sinha said.

“In fact, the Commissioner (Amritsar) in his report has said he had not granted permission to hold the Dusshera festival at the spot,” Sinha, who visited the accident site at midnight, told reporters.

Sinha said the venue was nearly 70 metres from the accident spot which was not the property of Railways’.

“It’s the duty of the public not to hold public functions near the railway tracks. Even the local administration should not allow such functions,” Sinha said, adding “the driver could not see the crowd standing on the tracks because of the curve,” he added.

Lohani explained that the accident site falls under the “mid-section of the two stations” where the trains run at their “assigned speed” as per the condition of the track.

He also dismissed the railways’ responsibility in the tragedy. “The place where the accident happened was basically mid-section between two stations — Mananwala and Amritsar and not at a level crossing.”

“Trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to step on the tracks. It was a clear case of trespassing,” he said.

According to a senior railway official, the incident happened some 340 metres from an interlocked level crossing of the railways.

On Friday, a 700 strong crowd watching a huge Ravan effigy go up in flames amid exploding crackers spilled on to the tracks at Joda Phatahk when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train heading to Hoshiarpur from Amritsar came hurtling down around 7 p.m.

In just 10-15 seconds it left behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies. Video clips posted on the social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train tried to run away.

Lohani also said that the railway posts its staff at the manned level crossing to regulate the road traffic and nod at the mid-sections of the railway track between two stations.

The Railway Board chairman said at Jora Phatak the Jalandhar-Amritsar Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) passenger train which was running at its assigned speed, its loco-pilot applied brakes to slow it down.

At the time of the incident the gates of the manned level crossing were closed and the train was given the green signal.

When asked about the responsibility of the loco-pilot, Lohani said, “Our initial report suggests that the loco-pilot applied the brakes and the speed came down from 90 kmph to around 60-65 kmph. We are still looking at the seepdometer charts,” Lohani said.

The train driver was also questioned by the Punjab and Railway Police.

A senior Railway Ministry official, however, admitted that the loco-pilots of the Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) Jalandhar-Amritsar Passenger train did not apply emergency brakes.

Emergency brakes could also derail the train at high speed, the official explained.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal who was in the US, cancelled all his engagements and was set to return.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh announced the Jalandhar Divisional Commissioner will conduct an inquiry within four weeks. He also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next of the kin who died in the tragedy and Rs 50,000 for those injured.

Published on: Oct 20, 2018 at 21:20 IST