The train accident in Amritsar was caught on videos by eye-witnesses on cellphones.
Barely 30 seconds before a train ran over 60 people celebrating Dussehra in Amritsar on Friday evening, another train had passed by from the opposite direction, slowly. The first train had started from the Amritsar railway station, about two kilometres from the accident site and was headed to Howrah in West Bengal. The second train, which was much faster, was headed from Jalandhar to its final destination, Amritsar.
Hundreds had gathered for Dussehra celebrations and were standing on the railway tracks at Jaura Phatak, which was on higher ground, giving a better view of the burning effigy of Ravan.
A mobile phone video, shot by one of the hundreds watching the celebrations from the tracks, shows the first train cross right before the Ravana effigy was lit. Seconds after the fireworks went off, a section of the crowd retreated towards the tracks, where a large number of people were already standing to watch the celebrations. The train coming from the opposite direction this time, ran them over. The people who were hit could not hear the train’s siren due to the exploding crackers. Those who did see the train coming, were not able to react in time.
Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani, who visited the accident site this morning, has dismissed the railways’ responsibility in the tragedy and said they were not intimidated about the Dussehra event. Locals, however, claim that the event had been taking place at the same spot, barely 100 metres from the tracks, for the last two decades, except last year.
Mr Lohani said the Jalandhar-Amritsar Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) passenger train that ran over the crowd was running at its assigned speed and its driver had applied brakes to slow it down.
“Trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to go on the tracks. It was a clear case of trespassing. There was no intimation to the railways regarding this (Dussehra) event adjoining the railway track,” Mr Lohani told reporters, according to news agency IANS.
Mr Lohani said 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.
“The place where the accident happened was basically mid-section between two stations — Mananwala and Amritsar and not at a level crossing,” the Railway Board Chairman said.
According to a senior railway official, the incident happened some 340 metres from an interlocked level crossing of the railways.
Mr 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.
When asked about the responsibility of the driver, Mr Lohani said, “Our initial report suggest 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 speedometer charts.”
Following the accident, the railways cancelled 37 trains, diverted 16 trains, short terminated 12 trains and short originated six trains on the route.