Kanchanjunga accident: 9 dead; ‘goods train driver had clearance to cross red signals’
Rescue work underway after the collision between the Kanchanjunga Express and a goods train near Rangapani railway station. Photo: PTI

Kanchanjunga accident: 9 dead; ‘goods train driver had clearance to cross red signals’

Accident occurred near Rangapani station, causing four rear compartments of Kanchanjunga Express to derail due to the impact from behind by the goods train's locomotive

At least nine people were killed and 41 injured after a goods train rammed into the Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express from behind in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district on Monday (June 17).

The pilot and the co-pilot of the goods train and the guard of the passenger train were among the deceased, a railway official said.

The injured have been shifted to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital for treatment.

The accident occurred near Rangapani station, 30 km from New Jalpaiguri station, causing four rear compartments of Kanchanjunga Express to derail due to the impact from behind by the goods train's locomotive, the official said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences, calling the incident in West Bengal tragic and stating his prayers for the swift recovery of the injured. In a post on X, Modi said the "railway accident in West Bengal is saddening. Condolences to those who lost their loved ones".

Railway Safety commissioner to probe incident

Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw reached the spot riding pillion on a motorbike for some distance as the road was narrow for bigger vehicles to move. He took stock of relief operations and announced compensation for the injured and kin of the deceased.

While ₹10 lakh would be given to the next of kin of the deceased, ₹2.5 lakh would be provided to the grievously injured and ₹50,000 to those with minor injuries, Vaishnaw posted on X.

Vaishnaw said the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) has started a probe into the cause of the accident and added that measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances that led to the accident.

He stressed that restoring train operations on the critical route connecting northeast India with the rest of the country is a top priority for the railways.

What caused the accident?

“The collision happened because the goods train disregarded the signal and hit the Kanchanjunga Express, which was on its way to Sealdah from Agartala," Railway Board Chairperson Jaya Varma Sinha told reporters in Delhi soon after the accident at 8:55 am.

According to preliminary information received from railway officials, the passenger train was stationary on the tracks when the goods train rammed into it from behind.

Meanwhile, internal documents showed the goods train was allowed to cross all red signals as the automatic signalling had "failed".

The document, a written authority called TA 912, was issued to the driver of the goods train by the station master of Ranipatra, authorising him to cross all red signals, a railway source said.

According to the source, the automatic signalling system between Ranipatra and CAT was defective since 5.50 am.

"Train No. 13174 (Sealdah-Kanchanjunga Express) departed Rangapani station at 8:27 am and stopped between RNI and CAT. The reason for it is unknown", the source told PTI.

Railways totally parentless: Mamata Banerjee

Speaking to reporters at Kolkata airport before leaving for the accident site, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the railways has become "totally parentless" and that it was only keen on increasing fares and not improving passenger amenities.

"The railways have become totally parentless. Though the ministry is there, the old glory is missing. Only beautification is being done, but they do not care about passenger amenities. They are only keen on hiking fares," she claimed.

Governor C V Ananda Bose and Banerjee are scheduled to visit the train accident site to oversee relief operations and meet the injured, an official said.

Passengers recount horror

Railway officials, meanwhile, confirmed that the train has begun its journey to Kolkata with passengers in the unaffected coaches.

"The train has started from the accident site around 12.40 pm and is expected to reach Sealdah at 8 pm," Kaushik Mitra, CPRO, Eastern Railway, told reporters.

"Our train was moving very slowly when it reached Rangapani, a few kilometers from New Jalpaiguri," a passenger of Sealdah-Kanchanjunga Express said, standing beside one of the mangled coaches.

Another passenger described a sudden, sharp jerk accompanied by a loud sound, and the train stopped abruptly. Upon disembarking, he saw that the goods train had hit their rake from behind.

"We were having tea when the train stopped suddenly with a jerk," he said.

‘It felt like an earthquake’

A pregnant woman, traveling with her family, said she fell off her seat upon impact.

"It felt like an earthquake. It took us some time to collect ourselves and understand what happened," she said, sitting with her family in one of the air-conditioned sleeper coaches.

A passenger from Agartala, who was in coach number S6 of the Kanchanjunga Express, said he felt a sudden jerk and the compartment screeched to a halt.

"My wife, child and I somehow managed to get out of the mangled coach. We are currently stranded... The rescue operations also started quite late," the passenger told a television channel.

A local man, who was among the first to start rescue operations, mentioned that the express train was moving slowly when the faster-moving goods train rammed into it from behind.

Train services disrupted

Long-distance train services from north Bengal and the north-eastern part of the country were affected due to the accident.

Eastern Railway officials in Kolkata said route diversions of several long-distance trains were being made through the Siliguri-Bagdogra-Aluabari zone instead of their usual route, as the tracks remained blocked at the accident site.

(With inputs from agencies)

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