Sainthia, West Bengal, July 19: 60 people have been killed and another 86 are in hospital after a major train accident in West Bengal near the Jharkhand border.
A speeding train rear-ended another train at the Sainthia station in Virbhum district, 191 kms from Howrah. Both trains were bizarrely on the same track.
Sources who’re investigating the accident say "human error" is the likely cause - the driver of the Uttarbanga Express did not slow down as he approached the station. He hit the Vananchal Express that was pulling out of Platform 4. The Uttarbanga driver most likely overshot a critical signal near the station at around 2 am on Monday. Witnesses say they shouted at him to stop, but he was going so fast, that he could not brake in time. The Uttarbanga driver has died.
The collision was so severe that the roof and sides of one of the compartments of the Vananchal Express were slammed onto an overhead bridge for pedestrians. A part of another compartment of the Vananchal Express split and fell on the road along the tracks after being thrown over the bridge. The Army has been sent in for rescue operations.
32 bodies were rescued from the wreckage with equipment like gas cutters. Villagers in the area were the first to try and rescue passengers.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee who has inspected the site of the accident said the accident raises suspicion, implying that there may have been some sort of sabotage. "Human life is very important," she said. Two months ago, another major accident in West Bengal near Jhargram saw the Gyaneshwaari Express derailed - 148 people were killed. Banerjee rejected claims of sabotage by Naxals in the area, blaming the accident on "a political conspiracy."
Banerjee has been attacked by a series of politicians including former Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who said the tragedy proves "carelessness." Ram Vilas Paswan of the LJP raised a point that Banerjee’s opponents have been pushing for a few months - that she spends too much time handling the politics in her home state of West Bengal, and not enough on managing the Railways. "Full-time involvement is needed there. The Railways Minster should take a decision on whether she wants to continue as a minster or do politics in Bengal. The two cannot go on at the same time. We are not going to tolerate her playing with hundreds of innocent lives once in every three months anymore," said Paswan.
Eastern Railway CPRO, Samir Goswami said a few trains - the Kanchunjunga Express, the Sealdah bound Darjeeling mail and the Kanchankanya Express had been diverted.
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(With PTI inputs)