Investigators are looking into what caused one of the deadliest train accidents in recent times as rescue operations continued, checking to see if there were people still trapped in the mangled coaches of the Utkal Express that derailed in Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh on Saturday.
The railway ministry said 21 people were killed and 97 injured, 26 of them grievously, in the accident near Khatauli in western Uttar Pradesh.
“Prime facie, it seems maintenance work was being carried out on the tracks. An investigation will reveal what caused the accident,” Mohammed Jamshed, Member (Traffic), Railway Board, told reporters in Delhi.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu directed the chairman of the Railway Board to fix responsibility on “prima facie evidence by the end of day” for the derailment. He had ordered an inquiry into the accident yesterday.
The railways have deployed high-tech cranes and scores of workers to clear the tracks near Khatauli.
Two 140-tonne cranes were being used from early morning today to clear derailed coaches, from which survivors had been rescued and bodies pulled out till late last night.
Rescue operation by the National Disaster Response Force got over at around 3 AM.
Thirteen coaches of the high-speed Utkal Express, on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, jumped the rails yesterday, with one coach crashing into a house near the tracks.
Minister Prabhu said he was monitoring the situation and that restoration of the tracks was his top priority.
“Restoration is top priority. Seven coaches tackled. Also ensuring best possible medical care for the injured,” he tweeted today.
A senior Uttar Pradesh official said 156 people were injured in the derailment.
“A total of 156 people were injured in the Utkal Express train accident and among them many remain critical,” Awanish Kumar Awasthi, Principal Secretary (Information), UP government, told the news agency on the phone.
Curious onlookers gathered at the accident site this morning, as two coaches were hauled off the track and placed on the ground.
Linesmen and other workers shovelled away stones as new concrete sleepers were laid to reinforce the tracks.
“We have come from Panipat to work on the clearing of the tracks,” a linesman said.
Work is currently underway to haul an overturned coach, which had rammed into the facade of a local college, while another sleeper coach, which crashed into a house, is still to be removed.
“The train had 23 coaches out of which 13 had derailed. It was running at a speed of about 100 kmph when the accident took place,” said Delhi Division DRM, R N Singh.
Six of the derailed coaches were severely damaged.
A posse of security personnel from the UP Police, the RPF, PAC and RRF has been deployed at the site of the accident since last evening.
Minister Prabhu has directed senior officials and medical personnel to provide assistance to injured passengers and all possible help to the relatives of the affected passengers.
He also announced a Rs 3.5-lakh ex-gratia compensation to the next of kin of those who lost their lives, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who received minor injuries.
The injured have been taken to hospitals in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut and both the Railways and the local administration have issued helplines.
Trains passing through the Meerut line of the Northern Railway have either been cancelled or diverted till 6 pm today, a senior railway official said.
“All services on Meerut line, on which Khatauli falls, have been either cancelled or diverted through other routes till 6 PM, as the tracks are yet to be cleared of mangled train coaches,” Singh told the news agency.
Singh said the diverted trains would run through Shamli till the restoration work was over.