Amritsar train tragedy: Railways deny responsibility

Amritsar: Hours after 60 people were crushed to death by a train while watching the burning of a Ravana effigy here, the Railways on Saturday said it was not responsible for the tragedy.

Northern Railways spokesperson Deepak Kumar said in a statement that the event was organised in an area which does not belong to the railways.

It also said that neither the area administration nor the organisers informed it about any Dusshera ceremony at the spot.

“Therefore granting permission from the Railway’s does not arise,” he added. No information about the event was given to the railway authorities by the civil administration.”

He said at the time of the incident on Friday evening the gates of the manned level crossing were closed.

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.

“He informed the station master at Amritsar about the train hitting the crowd immediately after the accident,” he said. He told the Amritsar official that the incident happened some 340 metres from an interlocked level crossing.

The official agreed that the gateman should have communicated to the nearest station about the assembly of a large crowd near the railway crossing that had spilled over on to the tracks.

The station master should have been informed and he should have alerted the loco-pilots.

The Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani also dismissed railways’ responsibility in the tragedy.
Lohani 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.

“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,” Lohani told reporters here.

The accident happened near Dhobi Ghat on Friday evening when the people who had come to see the burning of the Ravan effigy.

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 Chairman Railway Board said.

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

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 loco-pilot, 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 seepdometer charts,” Lohani said.

He also cautioned the general public to not to trespass. “Railways regularly carries out campaign to build awareness among people to not jaywalk on tracks.”

On Friday, a 700 strong crowd was watching a huge Ravana effigy go up in flames amid exploding crackers when on the Joda Phatak tracks near Dhobi Ghat 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.

Doctors at the Civil Hospital said that the death toll could rise as some of the injured were critical. Many killed were migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

The Punjab government has declared state mourning on Saturday and all offices and educational institutions would remain closed, an official spokesperson said, adding that a probe has been ordered.

Video clips posted on the social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train trying to run away as train came mowing down all on its path.

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

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced Rs 5 lakh compensation each to the kin of the deceased and cancelled his proposed Israel visit to rush back to Amritsar.

The Chief Minister would visit the accident spot on Saturday later.

President ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi condoled the deaths on Twitter late on Friday.

The Prime Minister also announced Rs 2 lakh compensation each to the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 each to the injured.