At least 39 passengers were killed and 67 others injured when the Hirakhand Express, plying from Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh to Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, derailed near Kuneru railway station in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district late on Saturday night.
The incident occurred around 11.30 pm, while the train was passing by Kuneru railway station. Apart from the engine, seven coaches – comprising the luggage van, two general compartments, two sleeper coaches, an AC three-tier coach and an AC two-tier coach – were derailed. While four coaches fell on an adjacent goods train, two sleeper coaches (S-8 and S-9) and a general coach were completely crushed.
According to preliminary investigations, the accident occurred due to gaps developed in the railway track. “We do not know the exact reason. As of now, there are no evidences of any sabotage. We will be able to reveal the cause of accident only after a thorough investigation by the railway safety commissioner,” east coast railway spokesperson Jayaram told Hindustan Times.
Video footage from the scene showed local residents and members of the disaster management team trying to rescue trapped passengers, using their mobile phones for light. “People in the train’s three sleeper-class compartments were the worst affected,” said superintendent of police LKV Ranga Rao.
The injured were rushed to the Parvathipuram and Raigarh government hospitals.
Mishra said the reason for the derailment would be investigated, not ruling out the possibility of foul play. Maoist rebels are known to operate in the area.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu expressed grief over the incident, and announced monetary compensation of Rs 2 lakh for relatives of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for the critically injured, and 25,000 for those with non-fatal injuries.
Prabhu said “stringent action” will be taken against those found responsible for the derailment. “The cause of the accident will be probed. It is an unfortunate incident. Stringent action will be taken against those found responsible,” Prabhu told reporters after meeting the injured passengers at Rayagada district headquarters hospital.
Andhra government also announced Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of dead.
Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, currently visiting Switzerland, said this will be in addition to Rs 2 lakh announced by the railways.
Many trains had to be diverted, with debris of the ill-fated train blocking the Vijayanagaram-Singhpur route. District officials from both Vijayanagaram and Rayagada assisted in the rescue operations.