An unverified telephonic conversation apparently between two railway employees hints that "negligence" may have caused the derailment of Utkal Express in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar on Saturday. The nearly 15-minute audio clip could not be verified independently. A railway official said they were looking into it.
The Kalinga Utkal Express was on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand on Saturday when 14 coaches derailed at Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. The railways say 20 people have died, down from the 24 reported dead by officials in the state. A senior Railways official accepted that maintenance work was being carried out on the tracks when the accident took place.
One of the men in the audio clip apparently posted at a crossing near the accident site says "poor patrolling" on the track where maintenance work was under way was one of the causes that caused the tragedy.
"Welding work was under way at a section of the railway track... but the workers did not fix the block of the track and left it loose. Gates near the crossing were closed. A piece (of the track) was not fixed and when the Utkal Express arrived, 14 of its coaches got derailed," one of the railway employees is heard saying.
"Neither the line, on which the work was under way, was fixed nor they had put any flag or a signboard (as a stop signal). The accident occurred due to negligence. It seems all (concerned employees) will be suspended," he says.
The other replies that heads will roll and all including "Junior Engineer and other officials" were likely to face action.
They also tell each other that the workers had left some equipment between the tracks after finishing their work. "At least they could have removed the machine and put a red flag there, perhaps the tragedy could have been averted."
Railway authorities here said they had not yet got the audio clip.
"We have come to know through the media about the conversation between two railway employees. It says the train derailment occurred due to negligence. We will check the authenticity of the clip," Mohammed Jamshed, Member (Traffic), Railway Board told reporters here.
Work was being carrying out on tracks: Railways
Investigators were today looking into what caused one of the deadliest train accidents in recent times as rescue operations continued, checking to see if there were people still trapped in the mangled coaches of the Utkal Express.
"Prime facie, it seems maintenance work was being carried out on the tracks. An investigation will reveal what caused the accident," Jamshed told reporters in Delhi.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu directed the chairman of the Railway Board to fix responsibility on "prima facie evidence by the end of day" for the derailment. He had ordered an inquiry into the accident yesterday.
The railways have deployed high-tech cranes and scores of workers to clear the tracks near Khatauli.
Two 140-tonne cranes were being used from early morning today to clear derailed coaches, from which survivors had been rescued and bodies pulled out till late last night. Rescue operation by the National Disaster Response Force got over at around 3 AM.
Thirteen coaches of the high-speed Utkal Express, on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, jumped the rails yesterday, with one coach crashing into a house near the tracks.
Minister Prabhu said he was monitoring the situation and that restoration of the tracks was his top priority.