39 killed, over 50 injured as Hirakhand Express derails

Kuneru: At least 39 people were killed and 69 injured when the engine and nine coaches of Jagdalpur -Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express jumped the tracks near Koneru in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district around 11 p.m. on Saturday night, with the railways suspecting sabotage behind the derailment, the third in as many months.

39 people have died while 69 were injured. Seven passengers were critical while 20 left for their destinations after treatment, officials said. Rescue operation was almost over, the Divisional Railway Manager office said on Sunday evening, adding they don’t expect to find any more bodies in the mangled coaches.

Two AC coaches, four sleeper coaches, two general compartments and the guard-cum-passenger coach besides the locomotive of the train were affected and four of these coaches had overturned.

Railway spokesperson Anil Saxena said there are indications of foul play as a goods train passed the same track just two hours before the mishap, which occurred in the Naxal-prone zone just ahead of the Republic Day. However, Odisha Police ruled out involvement of Maoists in the mishap.

According to railways, prima facie there was rail fracture which caused the derailment. But it has to be ascertained through whether the fracture was due to sabotage or because of negligence and lack of maintenance. “The real cause will be known only after inquiry by the Commissioner Railway Safety,” Saxena said.

“There are indications of foul play as goods train passed the same track just two hours before the mishap. The inspection by the patrol team also found the track okay yesterday,” he said “The driver applied emergency

brake after feeling a big jerk and heard a loud sound. The area is Naxal prone and the incident happened just ahead of Republic Day,” Saxena said.

Home Ministry sources said it may ask the NIA to see if the derailment was a subversive act. “The NIA can expand the scope of their ongoing probe,” they said. The National Investigation Agency is looking into the claims of three arrested persons that the derailment of Indore-Patna express on November 20, 2016 in which at least 150 people were killed, was carried out at the behest of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu rushed to the accident site along with Chairman Railway Board A K Mital and announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh for the families of the victims, most of whom were from Odisha.

Railway Protection Force Director General S K Bhagat said, “Nothing can be ruled out right now. But the actual cause will be ascertained only after the inquiry.”       However, Odisha DGP K B Singh said “there is no indication of Maoist hand behind the derailment”. He was speaking after attending a review meeting chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik here.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi           and other leaders expressed grief over the incident. The PM said the Railway Ministry was monitoring the situation very closely and working to ensure quick rescue and relief operations. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu announced additional Rs 5 lakh under an insurance scheme to the kin of victims from the state. Chief Ministers of various states also condoled the loss of lives in the incident.

“We will take all angles into consideration in the probe. We have ordered an inquiry in the matter and a strict action will be taken against those found guilty. To play with the lives of the people is unforgivable to us and the guilty will not be spared,” Prabhu said.

Train services were affected on Rayagada and Vijayanagaram route, with at least five trains cancelled and around eight others diverted following the derailment last night.

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