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Train driver drank before Indian crash that killed 70

One of the two drivers of an Indian train that rammed into the rear of another train stopped at a station, killing about 70 passengers in eastern India three months ago, had traces of ethyl alcohol in his remains, according to a toxicology report, a newspaper in Kolkata reported yesterday.

KOLKATA, INDIA // One of the two drivers of an Indian train that rammed into the rear of another train stopped at a station, killing about 70 passengers in eastern India three months ago, had traces of ethyl alcohol in his remains, according to a toxicology report, a newspaper in Kolkata reported yesterday.

The report said the ethyl alcohol was found in the stomach of Madhab De, who died in the accident, said Ananda Bazar Patrika, the country's largest Bengali newspaper.

The analysis of the drivers by Hyderabad's Central Forensic Science Laboratory did not find any toxic substances in their stomachs, it said.

The Uttar Banga Express hit the Vananchal Express on the platform of Sainthia railway station, 190km north of Kolkata, at about 2am on July 19.

The oncoming train was scheduled to halt at the station for two minutes, but it failed to slow despite a red signal.

It was travelling at full speed when it ran into the stopped train, crushing two passenger compartments. Both drivers were found dead in their seats inside the mangled drivers' cabin.

Railway officials initially suspected the drivers might have been drugged after buying spiked tea. Many passengers on Indian trains are robbed after their tea or other foodstuffs sold by vendors has been spiked with sedatives.

After the accident, Mamata Banerjee, India's railway minister and the chief of West Bengal's opposition Trinamool Congress party, and some of her officials also hinted at "political sabotage".

A week after the crash, railway officials said after an investigation that the collision might have been triggered by signalmen who might have misled the drivers of the second train by giving them green signals.

But after conducting its own investigation, the West Bengal government's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) suspected the drivers might have been drunk.

After an examination of the drivers' remains by local doctors suggested the men had not been drugged by the sleeping pills commonly used by train robbers, CID sought the further analysis. A local court ordered the analysis of the men by the CFSL.

"We found something seriously wrong with the drivers. They overshot the signals, did not bother to apply the emergency brakes and did not even try to jump off the cabin to save themselves, just before they collided … we found the situation very unusual," said a senior West Bengal police official in Kolkata.

"Although the post mortem report said they had not been drugged, we suspected they might have taken something which made them inert. We felt the urgency of more sophisticated analysis of their inner organs."

A West Bengal-based track maintenance engineer said =alcohol use was common among train crews.

"I think as many as 60 per cent of the Breathalyser equipment kits kept at different railway stations have never been used after they were installed years ago. I know many drivers who have been drinking on duty regularly for many years and have never been caught. Some were caught, but they never faced any real punishment."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae