14 Utkal Express coaches derail; 23 dead
Muzaffarnagar: Fourteen coaches of the high-speed Utkal Express train jumped the rails on Saturday evening, with one of them crashing into a house adjacent to the tracks near Khatauli, claiming at least 23 lives and leaving around 400 passengers injured. The accident occurred around 5:45 pm near Khatauli town, around 40 km from Muzaffarnagar, the Uttar Pradesh Police said. The train was coming from Puri in Odisha and going to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, normally a journey of about 36 hours. Posses of PAC, ATS and NDRF teams, as also sniffer dog squads, were rushed to the spot to carry out rescue operations.
Heavyweight cranes and gas cutters were being used to lift or cut the mangled remains of the coaches and extricate passengers stuck inside. A large number of local people and villagers were also seen helping out those engaged in the rescue work. Policemen on the site said one of the derailed coaches had crashed into the wall of a house adjacent to the railway track and some people are feared to be trapped in the debris. Anand Kumar, ADG (Law and Order), said that a team of Anti- Terrorist Squad (ATS) will assist in the rescue measures and also look at any aspect of "sabotage".
Railways spokesperson Anil Saxena said, "Initially, we thought that it was only 4-5 coaches, now we have ascertained that 14 coaches have derailed. As of now our focus is on rescue and not on finding reasons for the accident." Since darkness was impeding rescue operations, he said the power department officials had been directed to ensure that there was no shortage of electricity.
Asked by a reporter whether there was any terror angle in the accident, state DGP Sulkhan Singh said so far there was no such information, but "UP ATS will investigate into the causes of the accident." The coaches damaged were S1 to S10 sleeper class, third AC B1, second AC A1 coach and the pantry.
Muzaffarnagar authorities have set up a control room to assist families of those affected. The numbers are: 0131- 2436918, 0131-2436103 and 0131-2436564. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed extreme pain over the derailment and said the Railway Ministry and the state government were doing everything possible and providing all assistance required. He said the situation was being monitored very closely by the Railways Ministry. At least 10 passenger trains on the busy route were diverted following the accident, a Northern Railway release said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry into the derailment. He said he was personally monitoring the situation and strict action will be taken in case of any lapse. Prabhu also announced Rs 3.5 lakh ex-gratia for those who lost their lives, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who received minor injuries.
Principal Secretary (Information) Avanish Awasthi said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those injured. In a series of tweets, Prabhu said that Minister of State Manoj Sinha has rushed to the spot while the Chairman of Railway Board and Member Traffic have been asked to oversee rescue and relief operations.
Two National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, comprising 45 personnel each, and two canines have been mobilised to the accident site from their base in Ghaziabad. Medical vans have also been rushed to the site.