Kuneru (AP): At least 39 people were killed and over 60 injured as the engine and nine coaches of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express jumped the tracks in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district overnight with the railways suspecting sabotage behind the derailment, the third in as many months.
The East Coast Railway put the death toll at 36 with the casualties expected to rise as many bodies were feared trapped in the mangled coaches of the train which derailed around 11 PM last night when it was on its way to Bhubaneswar from Jagdalpur.
The engine and nine coaches of the train went off the track near Kuneru station, Chief PRO of East Coast Railway J P Mishra told PTI.
Two AC coaches, four Sleeper coaches, two General Compartments and the guard-cum-passenger coach besides the locomotive of the train derailed.
While Railways suspect that tampering of the track near Kuneru station led to the derailment in the Naxal-prone zone, Odisha Police ruled out involvement of Maoists in the mishap.
According to railways, prima facie there was rail fracture which caused the derailment. But it has to be ascertained through whether the fracture was due to sabotage or because of negligence and lack of maintenance.
“The real cause will be known only after inquiry by the Commissioner Railway Safety,” Railway spokesperson Anil Saxena said.
However, he said, “There are indications of foul play as a goods train passed the same track just two hours before the mishap. The inspection by the patrol team also found the track okay yesterday.”
“The driver applied emergency brake after feeling a big jerk and heard a loud sound. The area is Naxal prone and the incident happened just ahead of Republic Day,” Saxena said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who is closely monitoring the situation, has rushed to the accident site alongwith Chairman Railway Board A K Mital to assess the situation at ground zero.
Railway Protection Force Director General S K Bhagat, who is also rushing to the accident site, said, “Nothing can be ruled out right now. But the actual cause will be ascertained only after the inquiry.”
However, Odisha DGP K B Singh said there was no indication of a Maoist hand.
“There is no indication of Maoist hand behind the derailment of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express,” he told reporters after attending a review meeting chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik here.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the incident was saddening and said the Railway Ministry was monitoring the situation very closely and working to ensure quick rescue and relief operations.
To take stock of the situation arising out of the derailment, Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
During the telephonic conversation, the Chief Minister briefed the Home Minister on the steps taken for rescue and relief of the accident victims.
Singh assured Naidu of all central help in rescue and relief efforts and said team of the National Disaster Response Force has already reached the spot.
Naidu reviewed the situation with ministers from north coastal Andhra and asked them to rush to the accident spot to supervise rescue and relief measures.
“We are investigating the cause of the mishap,” the Chief Minister said, expressing anguish over the tragedy.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh under an insurance scheme to the kin of passengers from the state.
The Rs 5 lakh would be in addition to the Rs 2 lakh ex gratia announced by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, the Chief Minister said on Twitter.
The exact details of AP passengers killed in the Hirakhand Express derailment was not known as railway authorities have so so far identified only 18 of the dead. Most of the deceased were from Odisha and only two have so far been identified as residents of AP.
Chandrababu spoke to his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik and assured all assistance.
“Spoke to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to expedite all (rescue and relief) measures. Instructed Collectors of Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram districts to coordinate all efforts, including medical treatment for injured passengers,” Chandrababu tweeted.
“My office, along with the Chief Secretary’s, is constantly monitoring relief efforts and status of the injured,” he added.
A family of five from Bihar was among those killed in the mishap.
Train services were affected on Rayagada and Vijayanagaram route, with at least five trains cancelled and around eight others diverted.