x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Indian train crash death toll rises

A train collision in the town of Penukonda, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, has killed at least 18 people and injured more than 30 passengers.

Rescuers carry out an injured man from the wreckage of the Hampi Express, which collided with a stationary goods train in Penukonda station, just after 3am on Tuesday.
Rescuers carry out an injured man from the wreckage of the Hampi Express, which collided with a stationary goods train in Penukonda station, just after 3am on Tuesday.

NEW DELHI // A train collision in the town of Penukonda, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, has killed at least 18 people and injured more than 30 passengers.

The Hampi Express, running from the town of Hubli to Bangalore, collided with a stationary goods train in Penukonda station, just after 3am on Tuesday.

Preliminary reports from the site have suggested that the driver of the Hampi Express shot past a signal, either because of his own error or because the signal malfunctioned. The first carriage, with 46 passengers on board, caught fire in the collision, while three other carriages were crumpled and thrown off their rails.

"The exact number of trapped people is not known yet, but efforts are on in full force to bring them out safely," Anil Saxena, a public relations officer for Indian Railways, told the NDTV television channel yesterday. "Doctors are working hard to give relief to all the injured."

Thus far, the casualties have included four children, and officials have told the media that several other bodies from the first carriage have been charred beyond recognition.

The injured have been moved to hospitals in the nearby towns of Penukonda, Hindupur and Puttaparthi.

India's minister for railways, Mukul Roy, who flew to the site of the accident soon after the news broke, announced a compensation of 500,000 rupees to the next of kin of the deceased. Mr. Roy also announced payments of 100,000 rupees to victims with "grievous" injuries and 50,000 rupees to victims with minor injuries.

Although human error may lie at the heart of the accident at Penukonda, the Indian Railways' signaling system has also been in need of an overhaul for many years now.

As far back as 1996, a committee recommended an urgent modernization of the signaling system.

But matters have moved slowly since then. Between 1997 and 2002, for example, out of the planned expenditure for the acquisition and replacement of railway assets, only 2.55 per cent was allocated towards this objective.

In 2006 again, a governmental working group on railway programmes recommended that several hundred signal installations around the country be replaced, at the rate of 250 replacements per year.

Dinesh Trivedi, who had served as India's minister for railways until mid-March, had made signaling one of the five focus areas in his railway budget, as part of his plan to create "more efficient, faster and safer railways."

Mr. Trivedi had proposed spending 391 billion rupees on various signaling and telecommunications work in the next five years.
One significant advancement proposed by Mr. Trivedi proposed, in the budget he presented earlier this year, was a "Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS), which ensures automatic application of brakes whenever a driver over-shoots a signal at danger, thereby eliminating chances of collision of trains."

The installation of these systems, along more than 3,000 kilometres of track, has not yet begun.

S. K. Mittal, the commissioner for railway safety in Indian Railways' southern circle, will head an inquiry, as required by law, to determine the cause of the Hampi Express accident.

The Indian Railways has set up telephone help lines for families trying to ascertain the status of their relatives aboard the train. In Bangalore, the help line number is +91 80 2232 1166 / 2215 6553 / 2215 6554.

The Hampi Express collision is the ninth train accident – major or minor – to have occurred in India this year alone.

SSubramanian@thenational.ae

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